I saw the line, “That’s all I believe in. That and making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones,” in the speech of Michele Bachmann quoted in Maureen Dowd column in today’s New York Times (August 9) titled “Withholder in Chief.”

The president has been so spectacularly unable to fill the leadership void in Washington that the high-spirited Michele Bachmann feels free to purloin Obama’s old mantra. ‘The power behind our campaign is hope and a future,’ she chirped to a sparse crowd Monday in Atlantic, Iowa. “That’s all I believe in.” That and making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones.

To me, “make America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones,” appears to be a metaphor indicating Bachmann’s attachment to American establishments’ values as against liberal value, but I cannot get across the exact idea of this message. Could anybody paraphrase the line for non-native English speaker like me easily to understand?

By the way, is the sentence, “That’s all I believe in. That and making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs” grammatically correct? To me, it’s confusing.

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    It's very difficult to answer this one properly without getting bogged down in the "political diatribes" implied/warned against in several comments. The surface meaning of the phrase is exactly as guessed. The problem is I doubt many answerers here would feel comfortable paraphrasing it in a positive way that faithfully reflects Bachmann's intentions about how it should be understood. In the final analysis, it's not even about lighting technology - it's about appealing to conservative/reactionary emotions devoid of semantic content. Aug 10, 2011 at 15:30
  • @FumbleFingers. Though I have no knowledge about politics of America, it was my first impression that the contrast of old-fashioned light bulbs and weird curly bulbs is more than superficial reference to lighting technology, or beyond environment argument as many answerers conceived, but represents conflicting values of Republican constituents who attach importance to tradition, entrepreneurship and self-help (I don’t know what are basic value of Republicans as a foreigner) and Liberals constituents (whose basic values, I don’t know either). I'm just thrilled to find many informative answers. Aug 10, 2011 at 22:47
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    I'd never heard of the woman, but @Thursagen evidences that she's a climate-change denier with bizarre views on low-energy technology, so it was probably more than a superficial reference. She doubtless endorses tradition,... because that's what all conservatives do. Tradition means keeping the status quo, including that you keep current technology and lifestyles as well as the current distribution of wealth & power. So she deliberately chose a familiar part of the lifestyle to take a (misguided) pop at its replacement. Aug 11, 2011 at 0:07

5 Answers 5


She is referring to climate change. A weird curly light-bulb is an energy saving light-bulb.

Basically, she is saying that she doesn't go for all that climate-change, global warming talk. One of the major campaigns of the climate change groups is the increased use of energy-saving light bulbs, with their hope that they will thereby "save the world".

Due to the promotion of energy-saving light-bulbs, old-fashioned incandescent light-bulbs are now almost impossible to get (I can't get them anymore in Australia).

I just found on Wikipedia that "light bulbs" is one of Bachman's "passions":

Bachmann introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act, which would require a GAO report show that a change to fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) would have "clear economic, health and environmental benefits" prior to enforcement of lighting efficiency regulations that effectively ban conventional light bulbs. Bachmann argued, "Each light bulb contains between 3–6 milligrams of mercury. There's a question about how that mercury will fill up our landfills, and also if you break one in your home, you'll have mercury that instantaneously vaporizes in your home. That poses a very real threat to children, disabled people, pets, senior citizens. And I just think it's very important that Americans have the choice to decide, would they like an incandescent or a (CFL)?"[71] Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio commented on the debate, noting a Popular Mechanics article which concluded that over the average life span of a CFL, an incandescent bulb could result in the emission of more mercury than an equivalent CFL, even if the CFL was broken, assuming power was generated by "a coal-fired power plant" (which produce about half the electricity the U.S. consumes). However, Collins also noted there is evidence that "[for] some people, CFLs are a health risk" and that the environmental risks of CFLs deserve consideration.

Add that to the fact that she doesn't believe global warming is true, so that makes sense:

Bachmann has charged that global warming is a hoax[76] and has been a vocal skeptic of global warming.[77] She has asserted that since carbon dioxide is "a natural byproduct of nature", it is a beneficial gas required by plant life. She stated that because life requires carbon dioxide and it is part of the planet's life cycle, it cannot be harmful. In a statement she made on the House floor on Earth Day, April 22, 2009, Bachmann stated she was against the cap and trade climate legislation, stating: "Carbon dioxide is not a harmful gas, it is a harmless gas. Carbon dioxide is natural; it is not harmful.... We're being told we have to reduce this natural substance to create an arbitrary reduction in something that is naturally occurring in the earth.

Thus, by saying "America safe for old-fasioned light-bulbs", she is declaring her belief in that global warming is not true, therefore light-saving light bulbs are not necessary, and therefore the incandescent light-bulbs, which have been nearly wiped out with the introduction of light-saving light bulbs, will be safe, if she is elected.

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    I think (correct me if I am wrong) it should be noted that ”making America safe for light bulbs” (of either kind) can be considered a bushism (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bushism).
    – Unreason
    Aug 10, 2011 at 10:10
  • @Thursagen. Thanks a lot for clear-cut vizual aid for decoding the message. I didn't come to think of that's environment-associated remark at all. Aug 10, 2011 at 10:20
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    But note that she said that x is a "beneficial gas required by plant life." It's like banning water because it's a major component of acid rain.
    – Thursagen
    Aug 10, 2011 at 11:19
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    Have to disagree with this. She isn't saying anything about Global Warming here. She's just arguing the people should have the "freedom" to buy the old-fashioned wasteful light bulbs if they want to.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 10, 2011 at 13:00
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    @FumbleFingers - Well...again her argument isn't really about practicality so much as it is about freedom. If you don't have the freedom to make what most other people consider bad choices, do you really have freedom? Not that I agree with her, but this is where she's coming from.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 10, 2011 at 16:22

This is really a US Politics question, sad to say.

First off, the term Make *X* safe for *Y* hearkens back to Woodrow Wilson's "Make the world safe for Democracy", which was one of the slogans we (in the USA) fought World War I under. So (again, here in the USA) it conjures up an image of fighting battles for freedom.

Now, there was a law passed by the United States Congress a couple of years ago that raised the efficiency standard for light-bulbs to a point where the old (round) incandescent bulbs no longer really qualify. So essentially it will ban them. Thus we will be left with only those twisty-tube "compact fluorescent" bulbs.

Now there is a philosophical belief prevalent in the USA called Libertarianism that argues that the government should be regulating almost nothing. Generally they feel things we consider violent crimes should be outlawed, but otherwise the government should just step back and let the Free Market do what it will.

So she (and many other like-minded individuals in her party) decided they'd strike a blow for freedom and try to kill this law. There's an article about it on MSNBC if you are interested in more detail.

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    While I personally agree with you wholehartedly, is english.SE really the place for a political diatribe?
    – wfaulk
    Aug 10, 2011 at 13:46
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    @wfaulk. No, it isn't. However, this was a political statement from a US politician. So understanding this question is really not possible without getting into the politics of it. If there was a question close reason that said something like "regional politics", I'd have voted that way. But believe me, you haven't even begun to see a proper diatribe out of me on this subject (nor do you want to).
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 10, 2011 at 14:20
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    I agree that politics don't belong here, but I think this post mostly just explains the background necessary for understanding the phrase. And I think that's on-topic. The little pieces that started to go into the "diatribe" area where removed. Aug 10, 2011 at 14:54
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    @Wfaulk: English SE isn't the place for a political diatribe. But it is the place for WORDS and expressions used in a political diatribe IMHO. So you're OWN diatribe is off-topic, but questions about someone ELSE's (particularly a presidential candidate) should be acceptable.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 25, 2012 at 22:57

If you've transcribed the text correctly, the italicised part is not part of the quote. While she may or may not have literally mentioned "making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones" before, the reporter added that part to contrast her (quoted) comment about her beliefs in hope and future.

Basically, the reporter is trying to present hypocrisy by saying "Ms Bachmann says she wants a good future, but she also want to go back to outdated and inefficient technology," two concepts that are in opposition.


To address the extra question (and also to address that I think some of the answers and comments are misattributing what is being quoted), Michele Bachmann (MB) said:

The power behind our campaign is hope and a future...That’s all I believe in.

and Maureen Dowd (MD) commented next to it:

That and making America safe for...

The meaning of this pattern (totally apart from the important context of bulbs, global warming, economics, etc) is that MD is presuming and making explicit an unsaid agenda to MB, i.e. that MB is using vague language which MD is translating for us.

MDs statement is grammatical as a sentence fragment in order to comment on MB; MD is completing MBs sentence so that it would be something like:

The power behind our campaign is hope and a future ... and making America safe for...

The sequence "That and making America safe for..." by MD is not a complete sentence as it stands, but it is certainly acceptable and good English for a sentence fragment in context the way she used it; it adds a slight bit of informality.

  • No senior politician would ever actually use the phrase "those weird curly light bulbs." Dowd is attributing a view of energy-saving to Bachman (maybe fairly, maybe not: I don't know about US politics) and deliberately couching it in stupid language to make Bachman sound stupid. Interesting how many readers, even on a careful site like this, fell for it. Aug 10, 2011 at 15:24
  • @Tim: it's the style of the editorial column that MD writes. The wording is not fair (it's not supposed to be), but the general sentiment by association is accurate (it's the general left-sided view of MB; I'm not sure if the right-side would deny it).
    – Mitch
    Aug 10, 2011 at 15:34
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    Mitch: my point was that only the placing of a punctuation mark (and the italics, if they're in the original) show that the sentence in question is MD's (or MD's view of MB's view). To an outsider, it looks like an unfair attribution of this view; witness the answers and comments above that treat the sentence as a quote from MB, which it simply isn't. [Still not taking sides on the political point; for all I know, the answers are entirely correct.] Aug 10, 2011 at 15:54

There was actually a bill making less energy efficient lightbulb illegal in America, so I think in this case she is being quite literal.


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