Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is quite a piece of work. Think she could lead the free world?
Michelle Bachmann is a United States Congresswoman, who has represented the sixth district in Minnesota for the past four years. She's also one of the "leaders" of the tea-party movement, if that rather diffuse and confused phenomenon can be said to have leaders. For example, Mrs Bachmann gave the tea-party's response to Obama's state-of-the-nation speech yesterday.
(Yes, that's right. Alongside the Republican Party's official response to Obama (delivered by another member of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan - who is an enthusiast of Ayn Rand and something of a tea-party favourite himself), the tea-party gave its own separate response to Obama's proposals.)
In addition to all of this, Mrs Bachmann appears to be either a moron or a liar.
Here's the story. On January 21, she went to Iowa and gave a speech to a group called "Iowans for Tax Relief". I assume from the name it consists of people who want to help lift a heavy load from off the shoulders of taxes, or something.
What is a relatively newbie member of Congress doing giving speeches to people who live in the state next to the one they represent, I hear you ask? Well, Iowa just happens to be the place where the 2012 presidential campaign will kick off [ed: early next year] when it holds caucuses to select each party's nominee. And it appears Mrs Bachmann has the idea that she could trade the House of Representatives for the White House.
How serious she is about this is hard to know. She might well be quite successful in the caucuses, which rely on turning out numbers of highly committed party members to participate in a lengthy debate-and-voting process. Her hyped-up tea-party base is ideal for just such an occasion.
But I'm pretty certain the world is not yet so insane that she could ever be nominated as the Republican Party's choice for President. So it is more likely that by getting people talking about her as a possible contender, she's burnishing her leadership credentials within the party - just as Sarah Palin is using the speculation about her presidential ambitions to build her media fortune.
However, back to the story. Mrs Bachmann turns up in Iowa to give a speech that lauds US exceptionalism and warns that the nation's promise is under threat unless concerned citizens commit to changing it for the better. So far, so standard for US political discourse; Obama's state-of-the-nation speech was pretty much along the same lines.
The problem was that Mrs Bachmann didn't just stick to the usual "we're the greatest, God loves us, and if we just all try a bit harder all our problems will go away" routine. She decided to put present problems in a little bit of historical context.
First, she reminded her audience of the USA's history of tolerance and determination to treat all people as equally worthy of respect.
"It didn’t matter the color of their skin. it didn’t matter their language, it didn’t matter their economic status. it didn’t matter whether they descended from know royalty or are of a higher class or a lower class. it made no difference, once you got here, we were all the same."
A beautiful picture, right? Of course, to make it work you have to ignore this. And this. And this. And this. And this. Plus there is the slightly inconvenient fact that for the first 70-something years of the USA's existence, people with black skin were owned by people with white skin.
Mrs Bachmann had an answer for that particular objection, however:
"We know that was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil and a block and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our fore-bearers who worked tirelessly, men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country."
Unfortunately, of course, the founding fathers didn't "work tirelessly until slavery was no more". For one thing, they were all dead long before Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation in 1863. For another, a good number of them owned slaves of their own - including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. And while Jefferson may have been conflicted about the issue of slavery, it didn't stop him raping at least one of the women he "owned".
Oh - and John Quincy Adams? He did oppose slavery - but he wasn't a "founder" of the USA. He was only 9 years old when the Declaration of Independence was issued.
So that's why I think Mrs Bachmann is either a moron or a liar. If she genuinely believed the words she spoke in Iowa, she is a moron. More likely, she knew it was hogwash but chose to say it anyway. Which makes her a liar.
Or perhaps there is a third possibility. Mrs Bachmann and her ilk suffer from a disease known as constitutional myopia. This occurs when a nation's constitution is treated less as a legal document that structures how governmental power is to operate and more as a matter of religious dogma which may not be challenged or questioned in any way.
A symptom of this disease is the recent decision to read, in its entirety, the US Constitution before the new term of Congress began. (Actually, when I say "in its entirety", I mean except for the bits of the Constitution that have been amended over time - like the bit declaring slaves to count as "three fifths of all other persons".)
Mrs Bachmann appears to suffer from a particularly aggressive form of this disease. For instance, she's arranged for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia - he of "original intent" fame - to "teach a class" on the Constitution to interested Congress members. After all, they're all good Republican's engaged in the same basic job, so why shouldn't the judicial and legislative branches get together to have a chat about the best way to do it?
So for Mrs Bachmann to admit that the US Constitution isn't actually perfect, the people who wrote it weren't moral paragons, and that the society that has grown up under it has some pretty major flaws would not only be politically difficult, it would result in significant cognitive dissonance.
In short, it might make her head explode.