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Bachmann too quick to dismiss that she's a Swiss miss

May 10, 2012|By Dan Turner
  • "Tea party" favorite Michele Bachmann of Minnesota likes to point out that she's more American than you.
"Tea party" favorite Michele Bachmann of Minnesota likes to… (Carolyn Kaster / Associated…)

So it turns out that Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a former GOP presidential contender who has made a political career out of wrapping herself in the American flag and questioning the patriotism of her ideological opponents, is a dual Swiss citizen. That's pretty delicious for those who find the jingoistic isolationism of the "tea party" movement tiresome, but I take Bachmann at her word that she's an accidental Heidi. And that's a shame, because a little more exposure to places like Switzerland might broaden her worldview, if not her politics.

What's puzzling about the revelation that Bachmann is a Swiss miss is the timing. Her dual citizenship apparently became active on March 29, after her husband Marcus registered their marriage with the Swiss government. Because Marcus is a child of Swiss immigrants and dual citizenship is automatically conveyed on Swiss spouses, Michele has actually been eligible for dual citizenship since she was married 34 years ago. So why apply for it now? Her spokesman says it's because the Bachmann children want to explore dual citizenship. As for Michele, many believe that her husband gave up a lot for the sake of their marriage, so the least she can do is accept his cosmopolitanism. But not without taking pains to try to prevent it from rubbing off on her.

"I am proud of my husband, Marcus, the love of my life, and his Swiss heritage," she said in a statement. "Even though I have been a dual citizen since I was married in 1978, I have never exercised any rights of that citizenship. Rather, I have always pledged allegiance to our one nation under God, the United States of America. We live in the greatest nation humankind has ever known and I am proud to be an American."

No Swiss Army knives for Bachmann, who cuts her red meat with a Bowie. Yet it's a shame that she's never exercised any of her dual-citizenship rights because a quick trip Alp-wards might shake Bachmann's confidence. In nearly every measure of health, happiness and prosperity, Switzerland beats the cheese out of the United States.

According to the CIA World Factbook, the maternal mortality rate in Switzerland is 10 deaths for every 100,000 live births, compared to 24 deaths in the United States. The Swiss life expectancy rate is 81.17 years, compared to 78.49 here. The Swiss, who have a publicly funded healthcare system that Bachmann would find even more objectionable than "Obamacare," spend 11.3% of their gross domestic product on healthcare, compared to 16.2% in the U.S. Swiss unemployment stands at 3.1% versus 8.1% in the U.S. And, maybe more important than any of these statistics, the Swiss are happier than Americans. Global happiness surveys have borne this out repeatedly, and a comprehensive compilation of such research compiled by Columbia University's Earth Institute, the World Happiness Report, ranks Switzerland as the sixth-happiest nation on Earth, with the U.S. coming in 11th.

All this prosperity is happening in a largely socialist country whose government welfare policies would appall Bachmann. The Swiss are taxed at a rate of 33.3% of GDP, more than double the 15% rate of taxation in the U.S. (if you count Social Security payments, the U.S. tax rate rises to 22%, according to the CIA). Another reason the Swiss can afford to be so generous with social welfare programs is that the stridently neutral country spends only 1% of its GDP on the military, compared to 4% in the U.S.

Switzerland is a tiny country compared to this one, and some things that work there would likely backfire or be considered philosophically unacceptable here; Swiss neutrality, for example, only works when you've got a more globally engaged country like the United States to fight your battles for you. Yet the country does show that some of the policies so frightening to Bachmann can actually succeed.

The good news is that if Bachmann's kids really are planning a European adventure, they might soon become better educated than their mom. Maybe they can open her eyes.

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