On Tuesday night an alumna of the College of William and Mary’s law school once again made history. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann LL. M ’88 became the first politician to give a nationally televised second rebuttal to the President’s State of the Union Address. After the official Republican response handled by Rep. Paul Ryan from Wisconsin, Bachmann appeared on CNN to deliver what has been coined the Tea Party Response. Such an event is unprecedented and, once again, the College has become associated with another first. I was surprised at first to find that Bachmann was associated with the College, as she is not regularly mentioned in the list of distinguished alumni — perhaps because she was not an undergraduate here. This prompted me to find out a bit more about her.
Bachmann was born in 1956 in Iowa, but soon moved to Minnesota. After her parents divorced, her mom was barely able to earn enough to scrape by. She excelled in school and was even named Miss Congeniality in the Miss Anoka Competition — a title that no longer quite fits the sometimes sharp-tongued conservative. Bachmann went on to graduate from Winona State College and received a law degree from Oral Roberts Law School, which became Regent University.
During her senior year of college, Bachmann — who had been raised as a Democrat — shifted toward conservatism. This paradigm shift occurred on a train while reading Gore Vidal’s Burr. She claims that Vidal’s satiric representation of the Founding Fathers disgusted her and she realized if she wasn’t a Democrat, she must be a Republican.
This tale is a bit too neat and beholden to the Tea Party’s worship of the Founding Fathers. It reads more as a political creation myth than an actual event. However, it does reveal one very important facet of Bachmann’s politics. She is a Republican because she is not liberal or a Democrat, not because of any intrinsic affection for the GOP.
After receiving her law degree, Bachmann continued her education by enrolling in a one-year tax law program at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. Although she only attended the College for a short time, she stated that it had a tremendous influence on her personal and professional life. Of course, she said this in an interview with the Virginia Informer, so she might just have been polite, but it stands to reason that she would appreciate the institution which educated many of her historical heroes.
After finishing her education, she embarked on a professional career and raised a family of five biological children and many more foster children. Interestingly, she spent several years as a federal tax litigation attorney, during which she represented the IRS in cases against tax evaders. It is ironic that one of the leading members of the coalition to eradicate taxes was once an IRS enforcer.
Bachmann began her career in politics when she defeated an incumbent Republican state senator in the 2000 primary and went on to win a seat in the Minnesota Senate. She gave an impromptu speech at the nomination convention and won her party’s nomination on the first ballot, although her defeated opponents claim she came prepared to run. Since then, she has been a representative of the far right on both fiscal and social issues. She often exasperated party leaders by acting spontaneously and independent of the party or caucus line.
As Tuesday night illustrated, she has brought this style to the House of Representatives to which she was elected in 2007. She joined the Tea Party early on, and as one of its main leaders, has leapfrogged past senior republicans into the national spotlight. Notably, she created the Tea Party Caucus and mounted a failed bid for head of the Republican Caucus. Rumor has it that Bachmann is even toying with the idea of a presidential bid in 2012. While the chances of her nomination seem slim, perhaps the College will once again become the school of Presidents.