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Responding to a heckler rarely worth trouble for politicians

And the Year of the Heckler continues.

Whether it’s liberals shouting at Mitt Romney, Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or a Tea Party activist badgering President Barack Obama, hardly a week goes by without another story of some aggravated citizen interrupting speeches or getting into a heated debate with a candidate or an elected official.

Often the speaker will try to talk over or ignore the heckler — but sometimes they just can’t resist mixing it up.

That’s almost always a mistake.

The latest incident occurred last Monday night in Iowa, when one Ryan Rhodes stood up and shouted a question during a Town Hall meeting, and afterward confronted the president as Obama was shaking hands and signing autographs, asking the president how he could call for more civility “when your vice president is calling people like me, a Tea Party member, a terrorist.”

Rhodes was referring to reports that Joe Biden used the word “terrorist” in a closed-door meeting. Biden has denied using the word.

Obama responded to Rhodes by noting he’s “been called a socialist who wasn’t born in this country, who is destroying America and taking away its freedoms,” so he’s all for toning down the rhetoric. A woman in the crowd joined the fun, yammering at Obama, “You do realize that 90 percent of domestic terrorist attacks are done by left-wing, environmental radicals and not people like me!” (Where does she get her figure? Also, does she really believe Biden was saying Tea Party activists are domestic terrorists?)

“You don’t seem to be interested in listening,” Obama said to Rhodes as their little tiff ended.

“Neither do you,” said Rhodes, as casually as if he were debating with his next-door neighbor and not the president of these United States.

Bachmann turns on overdrive

Michele Bachmann has emerged as a rising superstar with the GOP — Sarah Palin without the commitment issues. She’s fresh off a straw poll victory and she was on five — count-’em, five — Sunday morning political talk shows.

But rebel or traditional candidate, there are certain rituals you have to participate in on the campaign trail, including the time-honored practice of eating the local food in diners and at country fairs, and pretending there’s nothing you’d rather wolf down than some barbecue in Kansas City, a cheese steak in Philly — or a corn dog in the Midwest.

So there was Bachmann at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines the other day, downing a corn dog with gusto and inspiring a thousand Google Images and countless easy jokes on Twitter, Facebook and on the comedy shows.

In the meantime, Bachmann continues to deal with the “submissive” question. A few days after the topic was raised at the Iowa debates, Bachmann was asked on “Face the Nation” about saying, “[T]he Lord says, be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.”

When asked if submissive meant subservient, Bachmann said, “You know, I guess it depends on what word people are used to, but respect is really what it means. We respect each other, we listen to each other, we love each other, and that is what it means.”

Of course, that is not what it means. The dictionaries tell us “submissive” means, “inclined or willing to submit to orders or wishes of others,” and that suitable synonyms include “meek, passive, obedient, yielding, docile, dutiful, deferential,” etc.

One can argue about the biblical context, but it’s hard to get away from such quotes as, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands . . . for the husband is the head of the wife.” That seems pretty clear-cut.

Not that it’s going to matter in the end. Bachmann’s chances of actually becoming the next president? I’d say it’s 30-1 against. Iowa straw poll aside, Rick Perry has the best chance of making a serious run at Mitt Romney. (When did the Iowa straw poll become such a national event, anyway, and how do we put an end to that?) A new Rasmussen Poll of likely GOP primary voters has Perry leading with 29 percent, with Bachmann a distant fourth with just 13 percent.

Like Sarah Palin, Bachmann loves needling the mainstream press and playing the part of the rock star who refuses to do things the traditional way. Yet it’s that very attitude — and yes, the fact that both are attractive women — that makes them such intriguing subject matter for the very “lamestream” media for which they have such supposed disdain. It just might be that both Palin and Bachmann are bigger stars and bigger players in the media than they are on the Republican depth chart.

One Response to “Responding to a heckler rarely worth trouble for politicians”

  1. Ian Montgomery Says:

    Not to excuse Biden, but isn’t it ironic that the party that drew a Hitler mustache on Obama’s image is taking offense to being labeled as terrorists?

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