Rolling Stone magazine recently had a four page article describing in some detail the craziness ("batshit," Matt Taibbi said), hypocrisy, ignorance, religious zealotry and ruthlessness of the newest GOP presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann (R-MN). Not much is new there for those who have followed the antics of Bachmann, another sweetheart of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and, as you consider the career and future presidential prospects of an incredible American phenomenon named Michele Bachmann, do one more thing. Don't laugh.
It may be the hardest thing you ever do, for Michele Bachmann is almost certainly the funniest thing that has ever happened to American presidential politics. Fans of obscure 1970s television may remember a short-lived children's show called Far Out Space Nuts, in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing "launch" instead of "lunch" inside a capsule they were fixing at Cape Canaveral. This plot device roughly approximates the political and cultural mechanism that is sending Michele Bachmann hurtling in the direction of the Oval Office.
Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution. "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world!" she gushed. "You are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard."
I said lunch, not launch! But don't laugh. Don't do it. And don't look her in the eyes; don't let her smile at you. Michele Bachmann, when she turns her head toward the cameras and brandishes her pearls and her ageless, unblemished neckline and her perfect suburban orthodontics in an attempt to reassure the unbeliever of her non-threateningness, is one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau. She's trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo. You will want to laugh, but don't, because the secret of Bachmann's success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger.
And there is more. The colorful language notwithstanding, Taibbi's facts on Bachmann are mostly accurate. But the most important part of the cautionary diatribe comes at the end of the article when he warns that given the sentiments of a large part of the electorate, a Bachmann presidency is not unthinkable in the current political climate.
It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.
The Dunning-Kruger effect has been evoked in reference to Sara Palin who has been making a fool of herself before half the nation, while at the same time dazzling the other half with her charm and down-to-earthliness since her debut on the national political theater in 2008. Taibbi rightly points out that Bachmann is a more earnest, determined and likely-to-succeed version of the Palin phenomenon.
Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination.
Palin may be intellectually lazy and no longer interested in being president or vice president. But her searing ambitions and love of the limelight have not dimmed. She may not wish to be the queen but I doubt that she is ready to relinquish her perceived role as the kingmaker. I don't think Palin is going to fade into the sunset just because another right wing Tea Party glam girl is the rising star, at least not before she demonstrates her adroitness with a sharp elbow. For example, Bachmann announced her presidential plans on Monday in her home state of Iowa. Coincidentally or not, Palin lands in Iowa on Tuesday ostensibly to promote her film biography. The fact that she may be there for more than a cinematic interlude is apparent from this report. Just as Palin had headed for New Hampshire on the same day as Mitt Romney (the front runner in NH) announced his candidacy there, she is following Bachmann to Iowa where the latter has just emerged as the winner of a straw poll of Iowa caucus goers and is tied with Romney among GOP voters. Get ready for Republican roller derby!