It's difficult, at times, having to constantly invent and manage new narratives around which to craft political stories. Yesterday, Politico was busily hyping the Bloomberg-Washington Post Republican primary debate as "now or never" for Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Today, they're saying Perry eschewed "a debate knock-out" and instead used it as "a pivot point" to move into the policy arena. New day, new narrative.
And their story this morning on Michele Bachmann's debate performance stands out as a fine example of narrative generation at the expense of factual considerations:
The Michele Bachmann conservatives fell in love with during the campaign's early debates returned Tuesday night.
Bachmann, whose campaign has suffered a series of unforced errors and clunky debate performances since she won the Ames straw poll in August, delivered a solid performance at the Washington Post/Bloomberg forum, striking her campaign themes while discussing complex economic issues without a stumble.
She gave serious answers -- with the exception of a lighthearted joke comparing Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan to a sign of the devil -- and didn't whiff when Mitt Romney lobbed her a gift softball question.
Politico saw a "solid performance," flawless discussion of "complex economic issues," and "serious answers" with no "stumbles" from the Minnesota Republican. Let's take a specific look at what they found so impressive, and contrast it with what others in the fact-checking community thought.
Bachmann trained her signature shot at her chief economic boogeyman, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform legislation, and, in so doing, blamed the federal government for the recession.
"I think if you look at the problem with the economic meltdown, you can trace it right back to the federal government, because it was the federal government that demanded that banks and mortgage companies lower platinum-level lending standards to new lows," she said.
It might be argued that the government pursued policies under both Democratic and Republican presidents to promote home ownership, such as setting up mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make more affordable mortgages possible, and the tax deduction for home mortgages. But it's a stretch to suggest that federal regulators forced banks to make mortgage loans to people who could not afford them. And neither Bachmann nor most other Republican presidential contenders are calling for a repeal of the home-mortgage deduction.
Bachmann also played up her fight against the debt ceiling increase -- a battle she highlighted with great success before the Ames straw poll -- and the bailouts of Wall Street and the automobile industry.
"Last summer I was a leading voice in the wilderness of Washington and a lone voice, as a matter of fact, saying: 'Do not increase the debt ceiling,'" she said. "By that, what I was saying is, 'Let's not give Barack Obama another $2.4 trillion blank check to spend.'"
It's hard to know where to start with Michele Bachmann's characterization of the problems with the federal budget.
Let's start with the debt-limit deal. Congress approved an increase in the debt limit to pay bills already incurred by Congress. It does not give Obama new authority to spend more money. It just lets the federal government continue sending out Social Security checks, feeding soldiers in the field and paying doctors who see Medicare patients. And guess what?
Even if Obama wins not a dime of additional spending, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling again in early 2013. Even the House Republican budget, an austere document drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.), calls for nearly $2 trillion in additional borrowing by the end of next year.
There are plenty of other examples that Politico didn't touch, like Bachmann's claim that the 1977 Community Reinvestment Act is to blame for the mortgage crisis (which the Post called "roundly discredited"), or her assertion that a 15-person person panel of bureaucrats is going to "make all the major health care decisions" for the American people (rated "False" by Politifact).
But Politico was right that Bachmann did not "whiff" on Romney's "softball" question. Though there's something else to be said about holding candidates to such perilously low standards of competence.