Michele Bachmann, American Girl

Brace yourself, America: Last weekend Michele Bachmann announced, from her hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, the she will officially be running for President. And fittingly for an official Bachmann campaign launch, the event was characterized by a two hilarious missteps.

First, there was a delightful gaffe; one that illustrates the glaring ignorance of a woman that honestly believes that the Founding Fathers abolished slavery. In this case, Bachmann revealed that she isn’t just clueless when it comes to American history. On Sunday, during a Fox News interview, she demonstrated that she doesn’t even know about her hometown, by confusing John Wayne with Waterloo’s most (in)famous son, John Wayne Gacy – the psychopathic part-time clown and serial killer that raped and murdered dozens of teenage boys and young men.

Bachmann’s response? “People can make mistakes and I wish I could be perfect every time I say something, but I can’t.”

She didn’t have to tell us that. Her hypocritical, deceitful rants, and her constant battles with the truth – like claiming she doesn’t benefit from Federal Farm subsidies despite her financial disclosure saying otherwise – have already made her imperfections perfectly clear. But one out of 24 – the rate at which her claims are correct, according to AP Fact Checkers – ain’t bad.

And if it wasn’t bad enough that Bachmann tried to compare herself to a racist, draft dodging wannabe cowboy-soldier but failed like Amy Winehouse at a staying-sober contest, the rally concluded with Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “American Girl” blasting from the public address. The cease-and-desist orders from Petty’s lawyers soon followed.

For my money, this was the most wince inducing moment of her rally, and not just because this was an example of a far-rightwing candidate trying to use a song I love to advance her own demonic cause, but because the song’s meaning seems to be completely at odds with Bachmann’s hollow America is Greatest sloganeering. Although the song’s meaning is ambiguous, and Petty has kept his cards close to his chest (only divulging that it isn’t about a student’s suicide in his hometown of Gainsville, Florida) the lyrics are replete with imagery of suicide, sex, and being let down by the promise of the American Dream; hardly the anthem of a “My Country Right or Wrong” type of person who herself doesn’t appear to be aware of the difference between the two(her supporters are even suspected of Stalinistically rewriting history on Wikipedia so that it is consistent with Bachmann’s distortions). Perhaps then, because Bachmann doesn’t have the wherewithal to grasp complex issues, like what is true and what isn’t, its only appropriate that she would use a song whose meaning is anathema to her supporters’ fundamentalist worldview. After all, like rightwing idealizing of capitalism and the USA, it sounds pretty (and has a sweet guitar solo).

But the cringing doesn’t cease there. The use of the song was such a head-meet-hands moment because Petty himself rebuked George W. Bush for using his song “I Won’t Back Down” in 2000, arguing that it gave off the false impression that Mr. Petty was a Bush-booster. He gave similar reasons to Bachmann, but its not as if her campaign workers couldn’t have figured it out themselves: while the Heartbreakers’ front man is hardly on the frontline of politics, he commiserated with Al Gore in 2000 on the night of his concession, and he spoke out against the Iraq War and, more generally, against the War on Terror in a 2006 Esquire interview. Even Bachmann’s people should have known they were inviting a legal challenge before had Petty’s iconic song lined up on the iPod. But Bachmann, however, could claim that she was just keeping up with the time honored Republican tradition of misappropriating songs by musicians that abhor the GOP message. As Maggie Habermann of Politico pointed out, this gives Bachmann another justification for claiming that she is Ronald Reagan’s heiress; in 1984, Reagan used Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In The USA” for his campaign, seemingly unaware that the ditty is a protest song. The Boss sent his lawyers after The Gipper, ordering him to cease and desist. And GOP song thievery doesn’t stop there either: In a blog post by Jef Otte, Republicans were adjudged to have been at the center of 9 out of the top 10 controversies involving politicians taking the work of unaware and nonconsenting musicians to promote their causes. So much for Republican’s respecting intellectual property rights.

But the real question, after Gacygate and the Petty Incident, isn’t what musicians apart from Ted Nugent will actually let Bachmann touch their music (yesterday, according to Politico, Bachmann’s people started playing “American Girl” again, but quickly switched to “Walking on Sunshine” by Katrina and The Waves). Eventually Bachmann’s message will have to appear to the majority of Americans; something that is doubtful based on her record of bending the truth and spewing hate. Thus, while she may have not met her Waterloo quite yet, it seems inevitable. Therefore, serious observers should really be querying whether or not Petty will allow her campaign to use “Free Falling” when she gives up. Only time will tell. The waiting is the hardest part.

Samuel Knight

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.