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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Core of Conviction’

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CORE OF CONVICTION: MY STORY
By Michele Bachmann
Sentinel, $26.95 224 pages

This summer, Michele Bachmann unexpectedly surged to the front of the Republican presidential field. The Minnesota congresswoman became the leading conservative alternative to Mitt Romney ahead of the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses.

Mrs. Bachmann's fall was as rapid as her rise. On the very day that she won the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa, Texas Gov. Rick Perry jumped into the race. She dropped in most polls, joining a carousel of tea party favorites who shined as brightly and then flamed out as quickly as a shooting star.

Mrs. Bachmann's campaign memoir, "Core of Conviction," reminds readers of the virtues that ever-so-briefly propelled her into the top tier of Republican candidates. GOP senatorial contender Christine O'Donnell had an ill-advised television commercial in which she beamed, "I'm not a witch; I'm you."

"Core of Conviction" conveys much the same message, with less camp and more authenticity. We learned that Mrs. Bachmann is like a lot of committed conservative Christian voters. She was drawn to her evangelical faith as a young woman. She recounts stopping at a church with some friends expecting a Halloween party and coming away having accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savior.

The former Michele Amble was born into a Democratic family. They were relatively poor, though they didn't lack necessities. The family moved from Iowa to Minnesota when her father got a new job. But when Michele was in her early teens, her parents got divorced. "I will always honor both my father and mother, but the fact remained that our family was irretrievably broken," she writes. "Dad moved out, and we didn't see him again for six years."

The Ambles' divorce plunged the family into poverty and, Mrs. Bachmann implies, sowed the seeds of her career as an advocate for traditional values. Despite the adversity, she was able to make her way through school, forge a career, meet a man and form a family of her own.

The candidate writes lovingly about her husband, Marcus Bachmann, a man she describes as a "real steady eddie." The couple read Francis Schaeffer, the philosopher who influenced a lot of evangelical Christians to become interested in politics, as well as the activists Phyllis Schlafly and Beverly LaHaye. Mrs. Bachmann would subsequently discover the free-market economists F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

Like many evangelicals in the 1970s, the Bachmanns started out as Jimmy Carter supporters only to become disillusioned with his presidency and the Democratic Party. Mrs. Bachmann mentions the gas lines, stagflation, the Iranian hostage crisis and the hollowing of the country's defenses as some of the reasons for their shift. By 1980, the Bachmanns were backing Ronald Reagan.

"In the seventies, Carter taught me what I was against," Mrs. Bachmann writes, "and then in the eighties, Reagan taught me what I was for." But the final straw with the Democratic Party, she claims, was reading a novel by liberal essayist Gore Vidal that ridiculed the Founding Fathers and praised Aaron Burr.

Mrs. Bachmann devotes an entire chapter to her Carter-supporting history. She spends another chapter on another part of her history that seems incongruous for a Republican: her stint working for the Internal Revenue Service. She claims she "chose to learn how to change the system from the inside out, to take a reconnaissance mission inside 'enemy' lines." More convincingly, Mrs. Bachmann discusses how her 23 foster children helped cement her pro-life convictions, as did the miscarriage about which she writes movingly.

The book charts Mrs. Bachmann's rise from concerned parent railing against arcane Minnesota curriculum items to accidental state legislator to, as she puts it in one chapter title, "rebel in Speaker Pelosi's Congress." She mentions her fights in the state and national capitals, her campaign swings with George W. Bush (who advised her to lose her over-the-top pink gloves), and her opposition to all things liberal.

With plainspoken conservatism, the memoir succeeds in humanizing Mrs. Bachmann. Judging from her recent debate performances, her advisers remind her to laugh and smile. In this book, the congresswoman casts a pleasant shadow.

But "Core of Conviction" does not exactly make Mrs. Bachmann look presidential. Few campaign books establish their candidate as a towering intellect; that is not what such volumes are for. Nothing other than her willingness to run and serve - and her ability to win - seems to set her apart as a leader.

Ordinary conservatives were initially attracted to Michele Bachmann's candidacy - and may now be giving it a second look in Iowa - because she had so much in common with them. Perhaps she left them wanting more.

• W. James Antle III is associate editor of the American Spectator.

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