Saturday, January 29, 2011

What I Read Today - Saturday January 29, 2011

From: The New York Times

Don’t Know Much About History

By GAIL COLLINS


Is Michele Bachmann the new Sarah Palin?

And do we really need a new Sarah Palin? Shouldn’t the first one be made to go away before we start considering replacements?

Bachmann, the superconservative member of Congress from Minnesota, made a big splash on Tuesday night with her Tea Party response to the State of the Union address. True, the placement of the cameras made her look as if she was talking to an invisible friend, and her eye makeup had a peculiar zombie aspect to it. But the next day all the attention was on her and not the official Republican response by Paul Ryan, the House Budget Committee chairman.

And the Republicans were afraid to complain! One congressman from Utah told Politico that he thought “to try to upend Paul Ryan was just wrong.” Hours later he issued a retraction — through Bachmann’s office.

On one level, Bachmann is just a third-term representative who only gets attention whenever she does something newsworthy, like claiming the Constitution says she doesn’t have to tell a census taker anything but how many people live in her home. She was passed over in a try for a minor post in House leadership.

Yet, at her invitation, Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court came trotting over to the Capitol to lecture the House freshmen this week about the true meaning of the Constitution. And she makes the leaders who snubbed her quake with terror. What if she rallies her fellow Tea Partiers into a rebellion over, say, raising the debt limit, and the economy collapses?

She does have a history of single-mindedness. Back when Bachmann was a state senator in Minnesota, her colleagues complained that they couldn’t get a budget done because she insisted on bringing everything to a screeching halt to argue about same-sex marriage. It was a controversy marked by her usual flair. “In 2005, she claimed to have been held against her will in a restaurant bathroom by two critics of an amendment banning same-sex marriage; they said they’d merely buttonholed her to talk,” reported The Minneapolis Star Tribune in a profile. “Then foes claimed that Bachmann hid behind some bushes to spy on a gay-rights rally; she said she was merely checking the turnout.”

Bushes aside, Bachmann is a much more serious person than Palin, whose response to the State of the Union address was to focus on the title, “Winning the Future.” (“There were a lot of W.T.F. moments throughout that speech.”) If Palin and Bachmann were your co-workers, Palin would be the one sneaking out early to go bowling, while Bachmann would stay late to reorganize the office seating chart to reflect her own personal opinion of who most deserves to be near the water cooler.

History is superimportant to Bachmann, who claims that she left the Democratic Party when she was a college senior, after reading “Burr,” Gore Vidal’s caustic historical novel. “He was kind of mocking the founding fathers, and I just thought ‘what a snot,’ ” Bachmann told The Star Tribune. It was, she said, a transformational moment so critical to her worldview that she can still remember what she was wearing. (“A tan trench coat, blue pin-striped shirt, like a tailored shirt, and dress slacks.”)

It’s not everybody who switches political parties over a historical novel, but Bachmann’s vision of the past is the core to her ideology. The men who created the Constitution were perfect heroes, so infallible that they fully understood the right to bear arms would someday include semiautomatic pistols capable of firing 30 bullets in 10 seconds.

Last week, Bachmann was in Iowa, setting off alarm bells about her possible presidential ambitions and delivering a speech in which she claimed that the founding fathers had “worked tirelessly” to eradicate slavery. She then cited John Quincy Adams, who was not a founding father.

Bachmann is not a zealous fact-checker, as we learned when she claimed the president’s trip to India would cost the taxpayers $200 million a day, based on an Indian newspaper report quoting an unnamed provincial official. In the real world, many founders, like Thomas Jefferson, expressed reservations about slavery but still kept hundreds of slaves, who were the basis of their personal wealth. Others, like John Adams, never owned slaves and opposed the institution but compromised on the matter of all men actually being created equal in order to bring the southern states into the union. And not a single one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence envisioned in any way, shape or form a democracy in which people of Michele Bachmann’s gender would sit in the halls of Congress.

But Bachmann was speaking to the lore of the far right, which strips the founding fathers of their raw, fallible humanity and ignores the fact that, in some ways, we’re wiser.

Maybe she’ll make Sarah Palin look good.

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