Well, one way to rabble-rouse a State of the Union speech whose tone and setting emphasized civility was to let the Tea Party in: Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R. Minn.) seemed to be looking off-camera at a tall statue of George Washington, or maybe of Darth Vader, as she delivered her third-party response to President Obama’s speech, with a shifting background at which Bachmann gestured. It was complete with charts and the famous 1945 photograph of the raising of the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima:
Bachmann’s speech aired on CNN, a decision that was criticized by MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who said, “tonight, inexplicably, a national news network decided that they would give Michele Bachmann a job that her own party never did” — a reference to the fact that the official Repubican response had just been delivered by Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan.
I think Maddow is wrong here. The Tea Party has become such a part of the national conversation that, placed in the proper context CNN did in setting up its airing of the speech, what Bachmann had to say was indeed newsworthy. I’m sure I’m not alone in finding last night that I was clicking around after the President’s speech and the Republican response, looking for Bachmann’s remarks, and was disappointed when I didn’t find them on numerous news outlets. (As for the camera-placement, Bachmann was apparently looking at the Tea Party camera, and not the network-news-pool camera. On this morning’s The View, Joy Behar could not resist saying that Bachmann is “such a right-winger, she can’t look to her left.” Oh, Joy… )
And it also was, I’m not shying away from saying, entertaining. Bachmann’s shameless use of the Iwo Jima photograph, her effusive call, “We will proclaim liberty throughout the land!” just days after she erroneously claimed that the Founding Fathers “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States” — it was enlightening to get the full picture of what a prominent Tea Party representative believes.
I know the counter-argument: If you start airing third- and (who knows?) fourth-party responses to the speech, it undermines attention to the dynamic — Democrats and Republicans — that will have the most impact on the plans of action that Presidents announce in the State of the Union address. The more we know about the Tea Party and what it’s proposing, the better informed we are in how seriously to take its members — and after the mid-term elections, with its Tea Party-influenced results, who would want to know less about the Tea Party?