In a surprising and somewhat defensive video announcement, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) announced she won’t be running for reelection in 2014:

It could have been half as long, and she should have explained the reasons why she isn’t running rather than dwell on the factors that weren’t at issue, but she clearly isn’t ruling out a run for some other office.

She was often unfairly compared to Sarah Palin, which was, in part, attributable to sexism (two conservative men with similar views don’t normally get paired together). In my interviews with her, I found her far more incisive and informed than Palin showed herself to be. Indeed, Bachmann’s calm and thoughtful demeanor in private was dramatically different from her firebrand appearances.

But, in one respect, she was similar to Palin: Bachmann has not lived up to her potential. She was famous for off-the-cuff, somewhat outrageous comments (the worst being that the vaccine against human papilloma virus causes mental retardation). She chose not to take an issue — such as tax reform, which would have drawn on her experience as a tax attorney — master it and make it her own in the way Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) did with foreign policy or Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) did with entitlement reform. She instead assumed the role of gadfly, which has its limits and grows tiresome (maybe even to her).

That said, she was more right than not on the nature of the Arab Spring. She was a stalwart supporter of Israel. She did not fall prey to neo-isolationism. And she was a staunch defender of domestic energy development.

She might have designs on higher office, but her talents might be used elsewhere. She might, for example, work on two social issues in dire need of attention — strengthening marriage (“traditional” marriage is in crisis like never before) and promoting adoption. Alternatively, she could try leading a badly needed political organization to recruit and promote candidates strong on national security. She might instead put together a grass-roots movement to counteract the strength of teachers’ unions and promote school choice and reform. There is plenty to do beyond electoral politics.

Her career should serve as a warning to young conservatives. You only get so far voting no on everything and taking the most extreme, confrontational positions imaginable. Being attacked by the media doesn’t necessarily mean you are being effective; it could very well mean you’re making a fool of yourself. And finally, you really don’t “change the way Washington works” or “end business as usual” by aggressive theatrics. In short, if you are a serious person with serious ideas, act like it.