Saturday, May 9, 2009

Falling on her face

By Don Klein

These are gloomy times. The economy is in the toilet. Banks are on the ropes and General Motors is tottering. Too many have lost their jobs and are unable to latch on to new ones. Unemployment is higher than it has been in decades. Retirement savings have disappeared. The war in Afghanistan is heating up and we are still taking casualties in Iraq.

But wait, not all is despair. There is someone doing her best to break through the negatives and cheer us up. Why should we be depressed? All is not lost. We are being entertained by the class clown, the wicked wench of the mid-west, Michele Bachmann.

She provides one laugh after another. Just what we need in bad times. She is equivalent to the Three Stooges during the Great Depression providing slapstick humor. She is better than them, she falls on her face – figuratively – all by herself, she needs no partners.

Ms. Bachmann, in case you didn’t know it, is a second term Republican congresswoman from Minnesota who was elected in 2006, the year the GOP lost control of Congress. Recently she came up with a discovery, a "unique coincidence" she called it. How come, she wondered out loud, the last time there was a threat of Swine Flu the president was a Democrat, just like today.

"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the Swine Flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter. And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence," she announced to the world.

The loopy lady from Minnesota was trying to make partisan points and didn’t realize her flu observation wouldn’t have been "interesting" even if it were true. The fact is the last Swine Flu scare occurred during Republican President Gerald Ford’s term of office. The joke was on her but we all got a good laugh out of it.

What Bachmann needs to do is rent a clown’s baggy pants, stick a big red rubber ball on her nose, put on floppy 24-inch shoes and wear a wild yellow wig to really get the crowd warmed up. A little exaggerated clown’s make-up wouldn’t hurt either.

What makes Bachmann so funny (or more correctly, pathetic) is that she shouts out charges without checking the facts, then when proven incorrect, does not admit it. Such was the case when she accused Democratic congressman, Keith Ellison, a Muslim, of consorting with terrorists.

Referring to a group of imams arrested in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport some years ago, she explained, "The imams... were actually attending, ah, Congressman Keith Ellison’s victory celebration, when he won as a member of Congress."

Bachmann talked about terror-related accusations that had been made against the six imams, not mentioning that these allegations had since been disproved. The fact was that nervous airline passengers had apparently misinterpreted the imams’ praying as reminiscent of the 9/11 hijackers’ patterns. The imams were in Minnesota to attend a conference—not a victory party.

Ellison responded: "This is not true. I think it could even be psycho-talk."
A Bachmann spokesman defended her statement while admitting that "the details may be a little rough." A little batty would be a better description.

Bachmann is not always funny, in fact at times she is very cruel. She spoke on the House floor about the dangers of hate-crimes legislation. Protecting gay victims of crime, to her, means protecting pedophiles. A pedophile in Bachmann’s view is someone who is gay, or a transgender, or a cross-dresser. That is who hate crime laws protects, she contended.

It wasn’t the first time Bachmann equated gays with child molesters. In 2004, she told a talk-radio host that same-sex marriage is dangerous because "it is our children who are the prize for this community, they are specifically targeting our children."

We know of Bachmann’s total contempt for reality and her ability to solve many critical problems by branding those whom she politically disagrees with with unsubstantiated accusations. She is often outrageous, like the long-time polemic critic of liberals, Ann Coulter.

As H.L. Mencken, who chastised politicians for being rogues, vagabonds, frauds and scoundrels, once said about elected officials: "They never get there on merit alone...Sometimes, to be sure, it happens but only by a kind of miracle. They are chosen normally for quite different reasons, the chief of which is simply their power to impress and enchant the intellectually underprivileged."

Bachmann an enchantress? Hardly, she is more of a riddle. Her constituency intellectually underprivileged? Not at all. She comes from a state which traditionally sends brilliant people onto the national scene. Senators Hubert Humphrey, the father of civil rights in Congress, Walter Mondale, served as vice president to Jimmy Carter and later ran for president, and Paul Wellstone, a progressive of considerable stature, are good example of Minnesotans who earned great marks nationally.

What has happened to Minnesota after all these years that now we are treated to the buffoon-like behavior of Bachmann? Could it be a post-Bush hangover or a wicked accident of fate? Is she a celestial angel in disguise sent to America to remind us of the dangers inherent in a political process that caters to nonsense? Is it a case of extremes, with Obama at the top and Bachmann at the bottom?

She is living proof that it is time that Americans stop sending kooks to Washington, but that is unlikely to change. As Menckin said: "One of the merits of democracy is quite obvious: it is probably the most charming form of government ever devised by man." In other words, style trumps content.

We often delude ourselves with images of crusading knights on white chargers doing God’s work in Washington only to end up with just another version of the Michele Bachmanns of the world.