Don't say you weren't warned. I said then and I say now - Michele Bachmann is no laughing matter. Her surge in Iowa may not be a flash in the pan and every time I hear her say, "...When I am elected President" - I reach for the Pepto. Still, the fact remains she's captivating Iowa right now. If you thought Sarah Palin was bad, just wait for Bachmann.
Check out the clip at the top from BillO's show last night for an example of how she operates. Note how, after ducking questions about how she would handle "entitlement reform," she leans into Bill and insists on sharing a bit of gossip that cannot be confirmed or denied. She says, confidentially, of course, that she and some others met at the White House with President Obama and when they asked about Medicare, he said "Obamacare." She sort of expanded on that to suggest that Medicare would devolve into subsidized, means-tested private health insurance. Yes, that's what Michele Bachmann says the President said.
But wait. That's Paul Ryan's plan. No worries, Fox viewers, Michele Bachmann creates whatever reality she wants to live in, especially if it stokes anxiety and fear about the scary black man in the Oval Office.
That brings me to Ryan Lizza's fabulous backgrounder on Bachmann in the New Yorker. It's a 9,000-word masterpiece. And tucked inside, Lizza lets us in on some of Michele Bachmann's bizarre beliefs.
Remember that so-called slavery "gaffe?" It wasn't a gaffe.
Bachmann’s comment about slavery was not a gaffe. It is, as she would say, a world view. In “Christianity and the Constitution,” the book she worked on with Eidsmoe, her law-school mentor, he argues that John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams “expressed their abhorrence for the institution” and explains that “many Christians opposed slavery even though they owned slaves.” They didn’t free their slaves, he writes, because of their benevolence. “It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible.”
What nonsense. Utter and complete baloney. The "Eidsmoe" referred to in that quote is John Eidsmoe, Bachmann's mentor and professor at Oral Roberts University. Eidsmoe isn't simply Bachmann's mentor. John wrote about how Bachmann embraces even his most bizarre beliefs back in June. He sums it up thus:
What she's done like the rest of the social conservatives these days is adopt Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman's economic theological principles and incorporated them into their many forms of Evangelical Christianity and that will help her in the GOP primary.
I would augment that a little with what Alex Pareene wrote on Salon:
Even in a post-Glenn Beck world where far-right extremism has become fairly normalized and occasionally embraced by a Republican Party that used to at least act embarrassed about its neo-Confederates and John Birchers and straight-up theocrats, Bachmann's ideological background is both radically anti-American (in the sense that America is a pluralist nation founded on Enlightenment values and not a pro-slavery Christian theocracy) and way, way outside the "mainstream." She's not just a hard-right-winger -- and not just a slightly dim "nut" -- but a full-on fringe character, a bigot following a bizarre strain of born-againism that even your average American evangelical would find too conspiracy-obsessed and ahistorical to be palatable.
Speaking of John Birchers, it seems fairly clear they play a large role in Bachmann's politics. From Lizza's article:
Around this time, Bachmann became interested in the writings of David A. Noebel, the founder and director of Summit Ministries, an educational organization founded to reverse the harmful effects of what it calls “our current post-Christian culture.” He was a longtime John Birch Society member, whose pamphlets include “The Homosexual Revolution: End Time Abomination,” and “Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles,” in which Noebel argued that the band was being used by Communists to infiltrate the minds of young Americans. Bachmann once gave a speech touting her relationship with Noebel’s organization. “I went on to serve on the board of directors with Summit Ministries,” she said, adding that Summit’s message is “wonderful and worthwhile.” She has also recommended to supporters Noebel’s “Understanding the Times,” a book that is popular in the Christian homeschooling movement.
And then there is J Steven Wilkins.
Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North. This revisionist take on the Civil War, known as the “theological war” thesis, had little resonance outside a small group of Southern historians until the mid-twentieth century, when Rushdoony and others began to popularize it in evangelical circles. In the book, Wilkins condemns “the radical abolitionists of New England” and writes that “most southerners strove to treat their slaves with respect and provide them with a sufficiency of goods for a comfortable, though—by modern standards—spare existence.”
African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: “Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures.” Echoing Eidsmoe, Wilkins also approvingly cites Lee’s insistence that abolition could not come until “the sanctifying effects of Christianity” had time “to work in the black race and fit its people for freedom.”
Here's a more recent example of Wilkins' belief structure, from a recent blog post decrying the minimum wage:
It works this way: If I’m a business owner, I might be willing to hire 4 unskilled workers at $4.00 per hour until they learn the job and prove themselves capable and dependable and worth a raise. But if you force me to pay a minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, I might hire only two new employees (or I might hire no new employees in hopes that my present workers can take up the slack). So, instead of having 4 teenagers earning $4.00 per hour, now only two have a job and two have nothing (unemployment increases).
But what is especially unspoken (and consequently largely unknown) is that the evil effects of raising the minimum wage hit young black teens the hardest. In 2007 (when the latest hikes in the minimum wage began to be put in place), the unemployment rate among black teens was 29 percent. Today (after the minimum wage hikes) that rate has risen to almost 42 percent. Thanks to the “wisdom” of Congress the number of unemployed black teens is almost 13 percent higher than it was four years ago (according to a report in today’s Wall Street Journal)
Got that? Minimum wage raises the unemployment rate of young African-Americans. Because evidently too many employers think...what? Either he's arguing that the "markets" don't value the African-American labor force enough to pay them more than slave's wages (yes, I intended that term), or they're not worth a minimum wage in the first place. Therefore, we as a society are supposed to reward that by slashing the minimum wage down to pre-1970 levels. It boggles the mind.
Perhaps the final and most bizarre Bachmann belief is her slavish devotion to liberty. Liberty defined by Bachmann, anyway.
Liberty is the concept—or at least the word—most resonant with the Republican Party’s Tea Party faction, which Bachmann’s Presidential aspirations depend upon. It is a peculiarity of the current political moment that a politician with a history of pushing sectarian religious beliefs in government has become a hero to a libertarian movement. But Bachmann’s merger of these two strands of ideology is not unique. In fact, the Pew Research Center, in its recent quadrennial study of the American electorate, noted that “the most visible shift in the political landscape” since 2005 “is the emergence of a single bloc of across-the-board conservatives. The long-standing divide between economic, pro-business conservatives and social conservatives has blurred.”
The two wings are now united by the simplest and most enduring strain of conservative ideology: a dislike and distrust of government. Religious and fiscal conservatives have been moving toward this kind of unity for decades, and Bachmann, in her crusades against abortion, education standards, gay marriage—as well as in her passionate opposition to raising the debt ceiling—has always cast government as the villain, often using terms that echo Schaeffer’s post-Roe warning that America risked falling into the hands of “a manipulative and authoritarian élite.”
Which brings me back to the echoes of Richard Nixon I hear in Michele Bachman. Echoes Rick Perlstein wrote about in Nixonland. Even though I've quoted it before, it's worth quoting again:
“What Richard Nixon left behind was the very terms of our national self-image: a notion that there are two kinds of Americans. On the one side, the “Silent Majority.” The “nonshouters.” The middle-class, middle American, suburban, exurban, and rural coalition who call themselves, now, “Values voters,” “people of faith,” “patriots,” or even, simply, “Republicans” — and who feel themselves condescended to by snobby opinion-making elites, and who rage about un-Americans, anti-Christians, amoralists, aliens. On the other side are the “liberals,” the “cosmopolitans,” the “intellectuals,” the “professionals” — “Democrats,” who say they see shouting in opposition to injustice as a higher form of patriotism. Or say “live and let live.” Who believe that to have “values” has more to do with a willingness to extend aid to the downtrodden than where, or if, you happen to worship — but who look down on the first category as unwitting dupes of feckless elites who exploit sentimental pieties to aggrandize their wealth, start wars, ruin lives. Both populations — to speak in ideal types — are equally, essentially, tragically American. And both have learned to consider the other not quite American at all. The argument over Richard Nixon, pro and con, gave us the language for this war.”
Nixon may have given us the language, but 30-plus years has given them time to refine, polish, and mold it into a candidate who inspires this kind of response:
Sitting on the edge of a metal folding chair in a sweltering parking lot, Donna Fouts, 73, doesn’t seem to care that Bachmann planned to vote against the debt-ceiling compromise that would ensure the arrival of her Social Security check and the military benefits owed to her sons and nephews. “Well, I’m sick of all them other politicians that tell me what to do with my life,” she answers. “Something about her tells me to follow her.”