Michele Bachmann finally found an attack line to wrest ultraconservative support from Rick Perry last night: That he mandated vaccinations against HPV for "innocent little girls," by executive order, to help his campaign contributors. Good for Michele!...??? But it's the anecdote about the vaccine leaving one girl mentally retarded that really makes this somethin' else.

Bachmann's line has "political winner" potential in various areas. She's able to hit Perry's record of crony capitalism in Texas, since Merck, which produced the HPV vaccine Gardasil, turns out to be a not-insignificant donor to Perry's campaigns and staff. (Not that Bachmann, like every other member of Congress, hasn't hoovered up tens of thousands of dollars from pharmaceutical companies herself over the years.) It allows her to to portray Perry as an overreaching, mandate-happy executive, always interfering with parents' rights. And most important — and this is the only reason that the other stuff matters, really — is that HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, and social conservatives think that any vaccination against it would cause girls to have sex with everyone all the time.

And in an Fox News interview following the debate, along with another appearance on the Today show this morning (clip above), Bachmann escalated things by introducing us to her convenient new mysterious friend:

The problem is, it comes with some very significant consequences. There's a woman who came up crying to me tonight after the debate. She said her daughter was given that vaccine. She told me her daughter suffered mental retardation as a result of that vaccine. There are very dangerous consequences. It's not good enough to take, quote, "a mulligan" where you want a do-over, not when you have little children's lives at risk.

Now that there is a devastating accusation. So... does Gardasil make people retarded? From the Washington Post:

The Center for Disease Control notes on its website that less than one percent of recipients reported "adverse events" after receiving the vaccine. Of those, 8 percent were "serious adverse events" - including Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare neurologic disorder that causes paralysis and muscle weakness, not cognitive disability.*

According to the CDC, studies showed no serious side effects to the vaccine and "there has been no indication" that the vaccine "increases the rate of GBS above the rate expected in the general population." Bachmann cited no specific evidence to back up the anecdote.

It's unlikely — although not out of the question! — that Bachmann would just made this anecdote up. The better explanation, in Dave Weigel's words, is, "News flash: Vaccine luddism is rather widespread." And they probably don't matter anyway, the facts. You want facts? Move to the forest! Because Michele Bachmann will spend the next week or month or year saying that Rick Perry chose to make all innocent little girls in Texas retarded forever, via "government injection," just so he could pull in five figures from Merck.

Anyway, all this fighting is great news for a certain Willard "Mittens" Romney.

Update: We've replaced a previous Washington Post blockquote with its current version.