At a recent Republican presidential debate, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann scored some points when she pounced on fellow candidate Rick Perry for his attempt to mandate the HPV vaccine for young girls in the state of Texas. Being that conservatives generally frown upon government intrusion and public mandates, her criticism generated a roar of applause from those in attendance. She did herself some good that night, but with her poll numbers dropping, she decided to double-down on the attack.
Soon after the debate, Bachmann took her objection to the next level by telling the story of a debate attendee who shared some disturbing news with her afterward. According to Bachmann, the unnamed woman claimed that her daughter suffered mental retardation after receiving the HPV vaccination. Despite there being no scientific evidence whatsoever that the HPV vaccine can cause mental retardation or anything remotely close to it, Bachmann continued to relay the story to other interviewers. The implication, of course, was that Perry not only overstepped his executive powers as governor (a valid argument), but also subjected kids to serious, life-changing health dangers by doing so.
This was Bachman’s Jump the Shark moment.
For those not familiar with the term, “Jump the Shark” is an idiom used to describe the moment an effort has grown beyond its relevance or ability to recover. The origin of the term is a reference to the classic television show “Happy Days” – specifically, the memorable episode where the character Fonzie hit a water-ski jump over a confined shark, in order to prove his bravery. Many fans believe the unorthodox scene marked the end of the show’s successful formula, beginning its decline.
Now while I understand the pressure that must come with a high-stakes presidential campaign (especially when you’re losing ground like Bachmann has been), it bothers me to see candidates lower themselves beneath the typical, disingenuous rhetoric and into the realm of complete ridiculousness.
One of the qualities that originally made Bachmann appealing to conservatives was her unapologetic promotion of the conservative ideology, not just in her words but in her actions. While many have questioned the conservative credentials of past and present candidates like John McCain and Mitt Romney, Bachmann came across as the real deal… like her or not. Despite the occasional gaffe and exaggerations, conservatives trusted her. However, in one fatal swoop, she managed to trade in the label of “genuine conservative” for the stereotypical caricature that liberals like to paint a conservative as: An anti-science fear mongerer.
While many conservative bloggers are finding ways to defend Bachmann’s comments and criticizing the liberal media for attacking her on this topic, I’m not about to. The media absolutely should be dissecting the claim. In fact, I’ll take it a step further and state that I have serious doubts that this mystery woman from the debate, that Bachmann cited, even exists.
In a way, this reminds me of an instance from the last presidential campaign in 2008. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were in a close battle for the Democratic nomination. Clinton was desperate to prove why she was the more qualified candidate. In a bizarre attempt to boost her own national security credentials, Clinton told a wild story of landing in Bosnia during her husband’s term in office, and dodging sniper-fire along the tarmac of an airport. The story ended up being completely embellished, and Clinton was never able to recover from it. That was her Jump the Shark moment and it may have very well cost her the presidency.
The position of President of the United States is obviously the ultimate prize in our nation’s politics, but the price of victory should never come at the loss of one’s dignity. If it does, that candidate’s character should be questioned.