Michele Bachmann, the woman who makes Sarah Palin look liberal
Is Congresswoman Michele Bachmann planning a shot at the presidency in 2012?
On Friday evening, as the world media concentrated on the G20 leaders departing Pittsburgh, a bizarre political encounter was getting underway at the University of Minnesota where two Republican members of congress were sharing a platform.
It could not have been an odder pairing: one was the anti-authority libertarian Ron Paul from Texas, the other Michele Bachmann, the local congresswoman whose flag-waving neo-con beliefs make Sarah Palin look like a wishy-washy liberal.
In an apparently desperate effort to attract a good crowd, it was Bachmann who had persuaded Paul to make the journey. In the event – as any freshman student of American politics could have predicted – Bachmann, a keen advocate of regime change in Iraq and of the campaign in Afghanistan, was forced to sit on her hands while Paul waxed lyrical on the need to end all military operations and keep government out of people's lifestyles, whether at home or abroad.
‘They love the shows on Fox. People want to go where they can find truth’
As Maureen O'Connor, an assistant editor at the Daily Beast commented afterwards, the event brought together two "wingnut worlds" - "a flag-waving patriot who likens gay sex to bestiality and fantasises about lobbing nukes at Iran" and the libertarian "Ron Paul Revolution".
If Bachmann wasn't so high-profile, Friday night's town-hall meeting might be written off as an absurdity. But Bachmann is now a constant presence in the right-wing media and the subject of considerable ridicule from liberals and Democrats.
Asked why she attracts such scorn, Bachmann says it's a combination of sexism and envy. "They want to make sure no women, no woman becomes president before a Democrat woman," she says, "and so they're doing everything they can to, I think, sabotage women like Sarah Palin, perhaps women like myself, or similarly situated women, to make sure that we don’t have a prominent national voice." An answer that suggests a shot at the White House is within her ambitions.
The mention of Palin, that other pin-up of the immoderate right, is not surprising. But actually Bachmann's views on healthcare, religion, same-sex marriage, Barack Obama and much else put her closer to to the barking world view of Fox TV's Glenn Beck.
Beck, in fact, is one of her heroes. Only last week, Bachmann said: "People... love Bill O'Reilly; they love Glenn Beck. They love the shows that are on Fox. That's what matters. Because people want to go where they can find truth."
Bachmann has most recently been in the news for the open letter she wrote to Barack Obama, criticising the continued federal funding of ACORN, the controversial anti-poverty advocacy group. And, of course, she is vehemently opposed to his healthcare reform bill. Late last month, she told a town hall meeting: "What we have to do today is make a covenant, to slit our wrists, be blood brothers on this thing. This will not pass. We will do whatever it takes to make sure this doesn't pass."
Incendiary addresses of this kind are her stock-in-trade. Talking on the radio in March about Obama's plans for a 'cap and trade' tax on greenhouse gas emissions, she urged Minnesotans to get "armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back".
During the presidential campaign, she said she was "very concerned that he [Barack Obama] may have anti-American views" - provoking accusations of 21st century McCarthyism.
Obama and his views are not her only target, however. She is fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage and, while criticising a hate crimes bill in Congress earlier this year, likened homosexuality to paedophilia. "A paedophile, someone who considers themselves gay, someone who considers themselves transgender, someone who considers themselves a cross-dresser? That is who is protected," she said.
Famously caught on camera, crouching behind a bush while checking out a gay pride rally, she defended her behaviour by saying she’d been wearing high heels and "just couldn't stand anymore. I was not in the bushes."
Bachmann's foreign policy expertise makes Sarah Palin look like Henry Kissinger (and, to be fair to Palin, the former Alaskan governor reportedly made a reasonably good fist of an address to businessmen in Hong Kong earlier this month).
After a trip to Iraq in 2007, Bachmann appeared most struck not by the status of the American military campaign or the suffering of the Iraqi people but by the size of Saddam Hussein’s palace. "It's absolutely huge," she enthused. "I turned to my colleagues and said there's a commonality with the Mall of America, in that it's on that proportion."
In an interview with the St Cloud Times, a local Minnesota paper, Bachmann said she knew of a secret territorial deal struck between Iraq and Iran. Iran, she said, was "going to get half of Iraq, and that is going to be a terrorist safe-haven zone where they can go ahead and bring about more attacks in the Middle East, and come against the United States."
How far Bachmann can go with all this will depend on whether she retains her seat in the mid-term elections next November. If the Democrats implode, as many are warning, she should be all right – and she does have God on her side, after all.
God, she once explained, "called me to run for the Minnesota Senate... God then called me to run for the United States Congress. And I thought, 'What in the world would that be for?' And my husband said, 'You need to do this,' and I wasn't so sure.
"And we took three days, and we fasted and we prayed, and we said, 'Lord, is this what you want? Is this your will?' And long about the afternoon of day two, he made that calling sure." ·
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