I can't wait to watch President Obama's speech before a joint session of Congress tonight, and it's not because of what he'll say or whether it will boost his popularity ratings, but how Rep. Michele Bachmann will react, assuming she even bothers to attend.
As I wrote after Obama spoke to a joint session in September, 2009 about overhauling the nation's healthcare system, I've watched every president from Lyndon Johnson to Obama address joint sessions of Congress, including every State of the Union speech since 1966, and I've never seen anyone display the disdainful attitude toward a president as the socially conservative Minnesota Republican did that evening.
Dressed in an elegant black dress that matched her mood, she was sitting directly in front of the president six rows back on the GOP side of the packed chamber. And she made it abundantly clear by her demeanor that she wasn't there to lend a helping hand to Obama, as she did while planting a prolonged kiss on President George W. Bush at his 2007 State of the Union speech.
In fact, Bachmann could barely bring herself to acknowledge Obama's presence. Demonstrating what must have been the weakest effort at applause ever, she slowly brought her hands together when Obama arrived. But that was even more effort than she could muster during most of the 44 times -- I counted them -- when Obama's speech was greeted by applause.
On a number of those times, when Obama received standing ovations even from Republicans, she was the only member who remained sitting. And on many occasions, when her colleagues applauded Obama, she feebly patty-caked the back of one hand with another instead of bringing her palms together.
Thankfully, she didn't sink to the depths of Rep. Joe Wilson, the out-of-control South Carolina Republican who cried out "You lie!" when Obama said reports that his reform effort would insure illegal immigrants were false. As I watched Bachmann, who frequently chatted with an equally disinterested colleague -- I think it was Florida's Ginny Brown-Waite, but I'm not sure -- I began to record her reactions as members, sometimes mostly Democrat but often many Republicans as well, rose to give Obama standing ovations: Here are some of them:
• Obama cites two "heart-breaking" examples of people betrayed by insurance companies and declares, "No one should be treated that way in the United States of America." (Bachmann remains sitting, patty-cake applause).
• Obama declares that under his plan, "it will be against the law for insurance companies to deny you coverage because of pre-existing condition." (Bachmann rises belatedly, weak applause).
• Obama promises to place a limit on out-of-pocket expenses "because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick." (Bachmann remains sitting, weak applause).
• Obama says: "It's time to give every American the same opportunity that we've given ourselves" as members of Congress. (Bachmann remains sitting, no applause).
• Obama calls GOP Sen. John McCain's proposal during the 2008 presidential campaign to create an insurance exchange where individuals and small businesses can shop for health insurance at competitive prices "a good idea" then and "a good idea now, and we should embrace it." (Bachmann remains sitting, no applause.)
• Obama: "We will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses, because in the United States of America, no one should go broke because they get sick." (Bachmann remains sitting, weak applause).
• Obama: "I will not sign a plan that adds one dime to our deficits -- either now or in the future. Period." (Bachmann, sitting but applauding).
About the only times Bachmann was able to shake off her lethargy was when she jumped to her feet to join Republicans as they waved copies of the GOP healthcare proposal when Obama said that "we should work together to address any legitimate concerns you may have," and when he indicated he would not insist on a public option provision as part of his plan.
I'm sure her mood won't have been helped by the negative reaction to her lackluster performance during Wednesday night's debate of GOP presidential hopefuls. She clearly was overshadowed -- no, make that made irrelevant -- by the new darling of the Tea Party crowd and instant GOP frontrunner, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. Even Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul were more animated. During most of the debate, she ignored her rivals, staring straight ahead as though in a catatonic state.
After winning the recent GOP straw vote in Iowa, Bachmann was transformed into one of the leading GOP candidates. But after Wednesday night's debate, she's likely to be sitting on the sidelines as the 2012 presidential campaign unfolds.
Of course, she can always recapture the public's attention in the upcoming GOP debates, as she did in 2008, by urging the media to investigate Obama and other members of Congress for anti-American bias, or insisting that carbon dioxide is a harmless gas that doesn't cause global warming and or declaring that she wants Minnesotans "armed and dangerous" to fight Obama's proposed cap and trade tax policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions. Or perhaps she'll just argue that evolution is a theory that has never been proven.
And maybe she'll even tell us why she thinks God wants her to run for president.
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