Bachmann's 'John Wayne' Gaffe: In the Reagan Tradition?

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As you've read in recent moments all over the Atlantic's site -- from Joshua Green, from the Wire, from me -- and conceivably from other info sources too, today Michele Bachmann put a dent in her growing reputation for discipline and professionalism by wrapping herself in the mantle of Waterloo, Iowa's own "John Wayne," not realizing that the hometown boy she was referring to was in fact the infamous pederast/murderer/clown John Wayne Gacy.

220px-Grover_Cleveland_Alexander.jpg

Thanks to reader Larry Delaney, this reminder that previous conservative Republicans from the Midwest have made similar errors. From a 1994 Newsweek obituary article about Tip O'Neill, who had been Speaker of the House in 1981:

>>Welcoming newly elected President Reagan to his Capitol office, O'Neill pointed out that he had Grover Cleveland's desk. Reagan brightened and said he'd played the man in the movies. O'Neill was talking about a Democratic president; Reagan thought he meant Grover Cleveland Alexander, a legendary turn-of-the-century ballplayer. "Welcome to the big leagues," O'Neill told Reagan. Tip swore the tale was true.<<

This reinforces the point I made a little while ago: the way Bachmann can show she is a pro is by joining the hearty laughter about her incredible "what are the odds?" error rather than getting defensive. Which is the way you can imagine Reagan having handled it. This has made Bachmann's first day on the campaign trail an unexpectedly interesting test of her demeanor and resiliency. (And, yes, I do realize that Reagan was already in office by the time this occurred. But he'd done similar things earlier.)

Photo: Grover Cleveland Alexander, when not signing bills at his White House desk.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.
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