WASHINGTON – The congresswoman stood reverently in front of the painting on the office wall opposite her desk, staring intently with hands clasped tightly behind her back, plaintively confiding she just wished she knew what God wanted her to do next with her life.

It was hard to tell if she was addressing God or the only other person in the room.

Or, perhaps, it was a supplication to those in the painting, the kneeling Founding Fathers in Harris Tompkins Mattheson’s “The First Prayer in Congress, September 1774.”

She was gently reminded how even Washington “had to make a strategic retreat during the Revolutionary War, many times.” She kept staring into the distance, silently.

Just a few days earlier, on May 29, 2013, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., had shocked Washington, D.C., by unexpectedly announcing her intention to retire from Congress at the end of her term.

The scuttlebutt on Capitol Hill was the leaders of the GOP establishment had had enough of her as a thorn in their side and would not lift a finger to help her in what promised to be an expensive and grueling campaign. Democrats, according to Politico, put her “at the top of their target list after she barely survived re-election.” There was also a pending ethics investigation into her campaign finances that another conservative congressman confided to WND was not her fault but the result of “trusting the wrong people.”

Recapturing the support of Minnesotans may have seemed a daunting prospect, but to millions of Americans across the nation, the housewife who went to Washington had become an inspiration. She was a conservative champion seen as a deeply principled constitutionalist who dared speak truth to power, especially to those in her own party.

And a year-and-a-half after gazing into that painting, Bachmann seemed to have found her answer.

“I’m not done. I’m just going to change arenas now. Instead of holding elective office, now I’ll be fighting from the outside,” a jubilant Bachmann recently told WND in a wide-ranging interview looking back on her storied career and eight years in Congress, where she left an impression like few others before her.

Bachmann plans to continue her mission to make America a better place from outside the beltway by writing, speaking across the country at different venues, appearing on media and associating with various groups.

“I think what I am more proud of than anything is the fact that I was a real person when I came into Congress eight years ago. I am still the same real person today. I had no filter over what I said or what I did.”

Bachmann reminisced how, before coming to Washington, as a wife and a mom in the kitchen listening to Rush Limbaugh and other people that she admired on the radio, she remembered thinking: “What is wrong with those bird-brains in Congress? Why don’t they do what they said they were going to do when we send them there?'”

The Minnesotan said she was not political back then but thought if she ever went to Congress, that’s exactly what she would do. And did she ever.

However, WND wondered, was there anything she felt free to say now that she was leaving office?

“Me?! Are you kidding?” she instantly shot back, then laughed deeply.

“I’ve never had a filter on my mouth at all! No, I was very free. And that’s what got me into trouble all the time. I don’t know who’s happier to see me leave Congress, Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner.”

But it was all worth it, she said.

“I mean, I rolled the dice and I gave it everything I had. I have worked like a maniac for the eight years that I’ve been here. When my feet hit the ground in the morning, I worked. I worked until I’d go to sleep. And I think that’s what I am proudest of, because I put everything on the line. … I couldn’t have worked harder.”

Still, Bachmann has paid a price for her outspokenness, enduring harsh criticism and sometimes ridicule from the establishment media and others on the left. WND asked if she knew why she had become such a lightning rod.

“Well, telling the truth bothers them. They don’t like to have the truth told about them. And that’s really what it is. I didn’t fear the left. I decided to take them on in the arena of ideas by attacking their false premises and their false narratives,” she said.

“They like to spin these false stories and false myths, and they like to make all these promises, for instance, with Obamacare. Everyone knows the biggest lie of the year was when President Obama famously said, ‘If you like your doctor, you can keep him. And you’re all going to save $2,500 on your health-insurance premium.'”

The congresswoman recalled she “was at the tip of the spear” leading the charge against the adoption of Obamacare in Congress. She went on countless radio shows and TV shows along with speaking to print and Internet media to explain the negative repercussions of Congress adopting the health-care law.

“It’s socialized medicine, let’s face it,” she said. “You can’t find any instance in the world where it’s worked particularly well. Certainly not in a great country of 330 million people.”

Bachmann said the left hated whatever got in the way of its success.

“I took them on, and their agenda, and I went to the heart of whatever it was they wanted to advance, and tried to take it apart through evidence-based arguments, and they don’t like that. When the left argues, they argue from emotionalism.”

Bachmann contended that the left does not argue from a logical, linear point of view. So, she took on what she called leftists’ false premises and said providing evidence contrary to their views was the best way to defeat them.

She suggested the left couldn’t counter her facts, so it attacked her.

“I did that, and you do pay a price. I became a target for them, but so what? Why else am I here?” she asked. “I was here to advance the cause of liberty and freedom, and I am glad that I did what I did. It does come at a price.”

It may be ironic that Bachmann refuses to call herself a feminist, because the 2012 presidential candidate so embodies the very independent spirit and assertiveness supposedly enshrined by the women’s liberation movement. But she appeared to acknowledge it can be challenging to be a conservative woman on Capitol Hill.

“The Republican Party always gets a bad rap, because there are not as many women in elective office. But it’s a tough business. It is public humiliation, public ridicule, constant criticism, when you’re in public office, if you take on the left.”

While stressing she was not casting aspersions on anyone who arrived in Washington with a different approach, Bachmann was adamant: “If you come here and decide to be a wallflower and park yourself and be as quiet as you can possibly be and go along to get along, you’re not going to have a lot of negative repercussions, but that isn’t why I came here.”

WND asked, other than staying true to herself, if she was proud of any particular accomplishments or movements she had supported.

She immediately mentioned the tea-party movement, which she called completely misunderstood but very simple.

“We believe that individuals are taxed enough already. They don’t need to be taxed anymore. We also believe that government shouldn’t spend more than what it brings in. Balance your budget like any normal human being in business would do. And number three, we think that government should have to follow the rules it makes.”

Bachmann said the tea party merely wants what Democrats, Republicans and “any normal human being” should want: to live under the Constitution. But that was not happening under Obama.

WND said that all sounded very Jeffersonian, so why should it be so controversial? Without answering directly, she implied it was not controversial; it was the will of the people.

“It is the ideal that prevailed at the ballot box this last November. People do think they are taxed enough. They do think the government should balance its budget. And they certainly don’t want the president breaking the law. That’s what won in all of these resounding elections.

“So, the tea party, I think, is a very important movement. People still believe in Second Amendment rights, people still believe in upholding the rights of the unborn, a number of us still continue to contend for traditional marriage between one man and one woman,” she said.

“These are all important values. And I think that is part of the lamp that I tried to carry. To continue the values that brought us up to be the greatest country in the world in all of human history.”

Any regrets?

“Oh, sure,” Bachmann readily acknowledged.

“Obviously, I wish I would have said things differently sometimes than what I said. But, if you’re married, you know, you feel that way everyday. You say things that you shouldn’t say. I don’t regret for a minute that I fought and I contended. I wish I would’ve been better, but I always tried. I learned. One thing I did was I learned, and I tried to do better all the time.”

Bachmann also wished she would have gone on the Foreign Affairs Committee earlier, because she didn’t realize how much she would love the realm of dealing with foreign policy, national security, military and intelligence matters.

“I just love that area, and I see how seminal the United States is in this leadership capacity. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time in the last year, particularly, traveling around the world and meeting with heads of state on these very important issues, because I am very concerned, and I believe the president is taking us down the wrong road.”

Which wrong road?

“I believe, with the president’s current policies, we will see a nuclear Iran very soon. That will change the course of history negatively, both for the United States and for Israel. And so I’m going to continue to contend against a nuclear Iran.

“The goals of Islamic jihad must be defeated. We have the capacity to do that. We are lacking the political will. And I wish I would have gotten involved far earlier in that arena so I could have devoted more time to it.”

WND asked Bachmann if she had a parting message for America. Her reply was both personal and political.

“We need to recognize and appreciate and value how great this gift is that God has given to us. What he has blessed is our following of his principles and his precepts. If you read the Old Testament, over and over and over, the writers state that we should follow his precepts and principles.

“Not in a legalistic sense. But because, out of following his principles and obedience, there’s a wisdom. Our lives work better. Our nation works better.”

Bachmann asserted the more that we know our God, the more we are blessed as individuals and the more the nation is blessed, as well.

Calling herself “a very imperfect person” and “a big sinner,” she nonetheless expressed gratitude “for a holy God who died for me and who made the way for me to spend eternity in heaven with him.”

“And that gift is available to all. God is not partial. What he does for one he does for all. And because his son was sent to die on the cross and take away our sins, every man can know the father,” she said.

“And every man, and woman, can know eternal salvation. And that’s my prayer for every person: They come to know him. That’s how our society functions even better.”

Bachmann said an adherence to biblical principles is an essential component of American greatness, as well as personal redemption.

“And so I just pray that more people come to faith in our nation. And walk out their faith. Again, I am a very imperfect person. But that’s what faith does, it helps us in our imperfection to be more like [God].”

Follow Garth Kant @DCgarth

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