Jack Ohman

Bachmann to the Future: what's wrong with American politics...

I know this is rather difficult to believe, but I had a small career in politics before I was a dashing and captivating syndicated political cartoonist for The Sacramento Bee.

My career was that I used to work in Minnesota politics. Specifically, in one phase, I was chauffeur for the 1978 Democratic Farmer Labor Party nominee for the First Congressional District. I drove him around in a Chrysler Le Baron, I think it was. 

I know it had fine Corinthian leather.

Anyway, after the candidate showed me how to drive a stick shift (we were late to our first event, and he taught me, fast, in his driveway--no way to learn, trust me), I drove around a lot of what is now Michele Bachmann's congressional district. 

My guy was a Polish Catholic labor lawyer running in a Norwegian Lutheran farmer district, but no matter. He was running to get his name out ahead of the 1980 redistricting, which created the new 1982 lines, which he then won because they tacked a bunch of Twin Cities suburbs onto that district. He served four terms and went down after the House check-bouncing "scandal," which consisted of members of Congress being legally allowed generous overdraft privileges, which he did. Not sure it was worth ruining the man's very promising political career over, but it did.

Michele Bachmann was a state senator in a redrawn Senate district that included the picturesque town of Stillwater, which was filled with a lot of pre-Tea Party types. It's a beautiful agricultural district with thousands and thousands of wonderful, down-to-earth residents. She did virtually nothing of value in the Minnesota Senate, but was very telegenic. So she won the new Sixth District congressional seat. Now, how and why are not especially important, but Michele Bachmann is a really good illustration of what precisely is wrong with American politics.


Gerrymandering, as most of you know, is the process by which congressional districts are drawn. Each congressional district has about 750,000 people in it, and these congressional districts are being drawn by both Democrats and Republicans to be almost completely non-competitive. And when those districts are non-competitive, people who are really liberal or really conservative get elected to these seats. And, in fact, many of them are very, shall we say, unreasonable personalities. In Bachmann's case, when you have John McCain's former campaign manager, Steve Schmidt -- a reasonable person and a pretty conservative gentleman -- saying on cable news that Michele Bachmann is basically a whack job, that's saying a lot.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, this country is being held hostage by, I would say, about 50 or so deeply unqualified and unreasonably rigid ideologues like Bachmann, both right and left. Nice Minnesotans on farms and Main Streets who are sane pillars of their communities sent her to Congress, and there she sat, spewing inane observations and creating asinine controversies while wasting a perfectly good congressional salary on a seat that could have been held by a rational person.

Minnesota isn't alone. Most states have a Michele Bachmann or three or eight because these districts are specifically designed to weed out moderate people. Moderate people tend to be, you know, sane. You can deal with them.

So good riddance to Michele Bachmann. See you on the cable news shows.

Meanwhile, maybe we can start the process of making sure that non-lunatics (and I am not talking about political philosophy here) like her don't get into a position of responsibility. For example, this loon sat on the House Intelligence Committee, and if that doesn't say something about how crazy our system has gotten, I don't know what does.

Gerrymandering is about drawing lines.

With her departure, perhaps it would be a good time to examine the lines we draw and then cross when we elect people like Bachmann to Congress.