Michele Bachmann stood frozen at her podium aboard the USS Yorktown in Charleston, South Carolina, as a group of Occupy protestors calmly shouted at her. With a giant American flag behind her, Bachmann stood motionless and wide-eyed, scanning the room with a forceful determination to not say anything.
Bachmann's supporters quickly came to her defense, shouting sit down! at the Occupiers, successfully drowning out the unified voices, at least on the video of the event (below). But Congresswoman Bachmann, clearly unsure of how to respond, eventually decided to leave the stage with a police escort.
This is what the Occupy protestors shouted at her:
This will only take a minute... You capitalize on dividing Americans / claiming people that disagree with you / are unpatriotic socialists / and you promote discrimination.
Instead of leaving, this is what Bachmann should have done:
First, Bachmann should have stayed. After the mic check, she should have addressed the Occupy protestors and told them please, go ahead.
Bachmann has presented herself as a champion of the constitution, and what better way to should it than to actively invite both the right to assemble and the right to free speech at her own rally. Bachmann should be commended for not having the police officers and security guards in attendance escort the protestors out, but passively watching didn't do her much good politically. It also didn't do her much bad, and her neutral response will have a negligible effect on her campaign for the Republican presidential nomination.
She had an opportunity to win some symbolic ground against a movement that she has coyly criticized. Instead of just allowing Occupy to read its statement, she could have also suggested that a spokesperson come and read the statement for everyone. Something like: No one likes shouting, so come on up to the podium and read, otherwise, I respectfully ask you to leave because you're disturbing those who came here to hear a speech.
It's a fair request, and also a request that would have put Occupy in an awkward position. As a leaderless movement, no one is supposed to speak for the whole movement and its supporters. Telling one person to speak would clearly present Occupy with a challenge. Worst case scenario, they go ahead with their shouting anyway.
But that didn't happen, and when Bachmann finally came back on stage after the protestors left, she quipped don't you just love the first amendment. This is a harmless joke, and it even is a little funny, but the ironic intent is a bit ethically reprehensible. Bachmann has said that she does love the first amendment. Making fun of people exercising that amendment isn't pretty.
Similarly, Bachmann has also repeatedly said that the Occupy Wall Street movement needs to stop protesting corporations and start protesting Washington. By showing up at a politician's speech, they just agreed with her. (Occupy is also taking her advice and is currently marching from Zuccotti Park to D.C.)
Lastly, a thank you for voicing your opinion would have won her some much needed respect.