Michele Bachmann’s Greatest Constitutional Clunkers

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann has committed many factual gaffes over the years, as others have recounted upon news of her forthcoming retirement.  Some of Rep. Bachmann’s most remarkable clunkers have been about the text of the Constitution – the very document that she claims to champion—and the basics of American history.

CAC has chronicled Rep. Bachmann’s memorable career as a self-proclaimed “constitutional conservative” in Congress. There will certainly be more to say about her retirement and what that means for the tea party movement.

For now, here are just a few of Rep. Bachmann’s greatest constitutional clunkers, with excerpts from our original posts about them:


1.      Claimed be a “strict constructionist.” Didn’t know what it meant.

“In a post for the Daily Caller, Bachmann declares that she is a ‘constitutional conservative’ and goes on to explain what that term means to her. Toward the end of the article, Bachmann quotes former federal judge Michael McConnell’s statement that the Fourteenth Amendment does not allow the President to circumvent the debt ceiling, then adds,’[i]t’s that philosophy — a strict construction of the Constitution — that I will look for in judicial appointees and that I will bring back to the executive branch…’

In reality, the phrase ‘strict constructionism’ is not a philosophy at all — at least not one accepted by any credible judge or academic —  but rather a code phrase for judges who make rulings that sit well with conservatives.  As a lawyer, Congresswoman, and candidate for President, Michele Bachmann should be able to articulate a philosophy for choosing judicial nominees that goes beyond meaningless references to a theory that has been discredited by conservatives and liberals alike.” (More.)


2.      Claimed the Founders  “worked tirelessly to end slavery.”  Got American History wrong.

“Talking Points Memo gives a terrific account of the factual errors in a recent speech by Rep. Michele Bachmann about our nation’s founding:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) had an interesting take this weekend on America’s first European settlers, who she said ‘had different cultures, different backgrounds, different traditions.”

“How unique in all of the world, that one nation that was the resting point from people groups all across the world,” she said. “It didn’t matter the color of their skin, it didn’t matter their language, it didn’t matter their economic status.”

“Once you got here, we were all the same. Isn’t that remarkable?” she asked.

Speaking at an Iowans For Tax Relief event, Bachmann (R-MN) also noted how slavery was a “scourge” on American history, but added that “we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States.”

“And,” she continued, “I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forebearers who worked tirelessly — men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.”

It’s true — Adams became a vocal opponent of slavery, especially during his time in the House of Representatives. But Adams was not one of the founders, nor did he live to see the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1863 (he died in 1848).

Bachmann’s story has more shameful errors than one can recount, but the most disturbing thing about her speech is that these errors appear deliberate, in service of a whitewashed, Tea Party vision of the American founding, where the Founders could do no wrong.

Bachmann makes no mention of the Founders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison who owned and sold slaves throughout their lives. Nor does she bring up those stinging phrases from the Constitution such as ‘three-fifths of all other persons’ that enshrined the institution of the slavery in our Nation’s charter until it was amended after the Civil War…and she ended her story about John Quincy Adams (age 8 when his father, John Adams, signed the Declaration of Independence) with the admonition that ‘Instead of continuously going back and looking at the weaknesses and stains of America, let’s look at the greatness of America . . .’…

America is great and so were our Founders, but America’s Founders were not perfect. By deifying the founding moment, Bachmann and the Tea Party ignore the great and enduring accomplishments of successive generations of Americans — the Reconstruction Republicans (Amendments 13-15), the Progressives (Amendments 16 -17), the Women’s Suffrage Movement (Amendment 19), the Civil Rights Movement (Amendment 24) — who fought tirelessly to make our Constitution and this country the ‘more perfect union’ we live in today.” (More.)


3.      Thought that the Battles of Lexington and Concord happened in New Hampshire.

“Representative Michele Bachmann’s historical blind spots have been well-documented over the past few months. At a recent speech courting New Hampshire primary voters, Bachmann mistakenly placed the first battle of the Revolutionary War in New Hampshire instead of Massachusetts. While a relatively simple mistake, it was curious coming from a ‘Tea Party’ candidate who puts so much importance on the Founding Fathers and the revolutionary era.” (More.)


4.      Decried reliance on the Commerce Clause during debate over health care reform. Had no problem citing the Commerce Clause to justify a local pork project.

“The Washington Times’ Stephen Dinan today had a front page story taking a comprehensive look at so-called ‘Constitutional Authority Statements.’  In a move seen as a sop to the tea party two years ago, House Republicans began insisting that Members of Congress attach these statements to each bill they introduced, with a citation to specific provisions of the Constitution  providing Congress with the power to enact the proposed law…

Rep. Michele Bachmann, who decried the use of the Commerce Clause during debate over health care reform, had no problem citing it when lobbying for $700 million of federal money for a pork project in her district. (Excuse us—an important local infrastructure project.) “ (More.)