Why Did Michele Bachmann Flip-Flop on Being a Swiss Citizen?

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Chip Somodevilla — Getty Images

Republican Minnesota Representative and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann arrives at the Blackhawk County Republican Annual Lincoln Day Dinner at the Electric Park Ballroom in Waterloo, Iowa, on Aug. 14, 2011

What a difference two days make, especially in the tumultuous life of Republican Congresswoman and former presidential candidate Michele Bachmann.

On Wednesday, May 9, Bachmann [no relation to the article's author] announced that she had become a citizen of Switzerland several weeks earlier, using her husband Marcus’ U.S.-Swiss dual nationality to secure fast-track naturalization. She added that the couple’s three youngest children were also now Swiss citizens. In an interview with Swiss TV, Bachmann explained that her family often visits Switzerland — in particular, the picturesque region of Thurgau, where her husband’s ancestors came from. “Our family loves it when we come because everyone brings home a big bag of chocolate, and everyone’s very happy,” she told reporters in Switzerland this week. She added that “it’s tough to find a place not to like in Switzerland.” Presumably she was referring to the fact that her newly adopted country has a solid economy, very low unemployment and – music to the ears of Tea Party leaders – no public debt.

As a freshly minted Swiss citizen, Bachmann not only would have the right to live and work in Switzerland but would also — after learning one of the three official national languages (German, French or Italian) — be able to run for political office there. “A majority of Americans would be very pleased if she took herself and her family and moved permanently to Switzerland,” one American citizen, John Penn, commented on the website of Swiss Radio International (SRI) following Bachmann’s announcement.

On Friday morning, however, Bachmann, who is running for re-election in Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District, had a change of heart. She announced on her website that she had sent a letter to the Swiss consulate requesting the withdrawal of her newly acquired citizenship. “I am, and always have been, 100% committed to the United States,” she stated. What she failed to mention was why she hadn’t considered her rock-solid allegiance to the U.S. before applying for naturalization in a foreign country.

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So what caused her to flip-flop on being Swiss? Bachmann’s sudden reversal could have had something to do with her re-election bid — and the backlash that could have followed her decision to apply for citizenship in a country at odds with her conservative platform. For instance, Switzerland has universal health care, which Bachmann railed against on the campaign trail over the past year. Abortion is not only legal in the country but also covered by health insurance. The rich pay more in taxes than the middle class, same-sex couples are entitled to civil partnerships, and assisted suicide for the terminally ill is permitted by law.

Her Democratic opponent in November’s election, Jim Graves, was quick to pounce on her about-face. “Earlier this year, Representative Michele Bachmann was Iowan, earlier this week she was Swiss, and today she’s an American,” Graves campaign spokesman Donald McFarland said in a statement. “Jim Graves has always known where he’s from, where he raised his family and where he built his businesses — St. Cloud, Minn.”

While the Swiss press has remained typically dispassionate about the nation’s new citizen, bloggers and commentators have questioned how the Congresswoman was able to get Swiss citizenship so quickly. (Citizenship in the country usually takes several years of residency to obtain.) “For years I have coveted those beautiful red Swiss passports with the white cross on the front,” a U.S. citizen wrote on SRI’s website. “Knowing that this woman — who represents the very worst of our fractured and dysfunctional political system — has one makes me sick.” Bachmann was eligible for a fast-track procedure because she married her husband in 1978, 14 years before the naturalization law pertaining to spouses was tightened.

There have been plenty of jokes on the Internet about Bachmann’s short-lived Swissness, like one from a commentator who said that “elaborate clocks are no longer the only kind of cuckoos Switzerland will be known for.” Given the embarrassment she’s already endured over her beautiful red passport, Bachmann might be best served by following the example of her would-be country — and remaining neutral on the subject.

(MORE: Learn More About Michele Bachmann)

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