I Respect Michele Bachmann

Michele Bachmann claims that Gore Vidal’s novel Burr made her into a Republican.

“It’s very interesting because I had been a Democrats — and I’d actually worked on Jimmy Carter’s campaign. And I was reading a novel by Gore Vidal, and when I was reading it he was mocking the Founding Fathers. And all of a sudden it just occurred to me: I set the book down on my lap, I looked out the window of a train I was riding in, and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t think I’m a Democrat. I think I really am a Republican.’ Because the Founding Fathers were not the characters that I saw Gore Vidal portraying in his novel.

“And that snotty, mocking attitude, to me didn’t reflect in any way who we are as a nation. And I just thought that’s a completely different philosophical view of the United States. And I know that Gore Vidal has passed away today, I understood he was 86 years old. And it’s interesting how his work — while he intended I think one particular way — it was used actually to help me see a completely different way, which is the conservative way. And I started then examining the conservative position, and realized at heart I really am a conservative. And that’s far more reflective of American values, than the values that Gore Vidal was espousing.”

I have a newfound—and sincere—respect for Bachmann. Seriously: how many of us can say a book changed our lives?

Her comment reminds me of what George Steiner used to say about the KGB: they were the only ones who took literature seriously.


  1. JG August 3, 2012 at 12:30 am | #

    I Respect Michele Bachmann

    I don’t.

  2. wisedup August 3, 2012 at 12:42 am | #

    weird word choice

  3. William McJunkin August 3, 2012 at 1:19 am | #

    And I was reading a novel by Gore Vidal, and when I was reading it he was mocking the Founding Fathers. And all of a sudden it just occurred to me..

    Plato would have nodded in agreement.

  4. Timothy Shortell August 3, 2012 at 1:31 am | #

    If only it were true… Religious conservatives do love a good conversion story.

  5. Frank Moraes August 3, 2012 at 3:39 am | #

    I think by “mocking the Founding Fathers” what she means is that he portrayed them as human beings. Like most conservatives, Bachmann sees the founding fathers as demigods and the Constitution as holy writ. (And just like in the Bible, God was in favor of slavery in the Constitution!)

    It seems more like her misreading of a book changed her life. If someone threw a book at you, giving you a concussion, would that mean a book changed your life? That seems to be the level at which Bachmann is operating.

    But I’m impressed she read Burr–or at least tried to.

  6. brother jon August 3, 2012 at 3:48 am | #

    “how many of us can say a book changed our lives?” really? that’s the standard for (sincere) respect these days? ok…i guess. just think it might be a more useful comment if you were talking about 13 year olds and not 40+ year old politician. or is it the unintended consequence angle that bedazzles?

  7. Douglas D. Edwards August 3, 2012 at 3:59 am | #

    I have a newfound—and sincere—respect for Bachmann. Seriously: how many of us can say a book changed our lives?

    I can. And it has happened more than once. Stanley Milgram’s Obedience to Authority was instrumental in liberating me from fundamentalist Christianity. Several years later, Noam Chomsky’s Turning the Tide (which I read, quite reluctantly, at the urging of a left-wing friend) flipped my political viewpoint from far Right to far Left over the course of a single month.

    Can this type of experience really be so unusual or surprising? Quite apart from religious scriptures, do you really think Marx’s Capital, for example, could have carved such a prominent place in history if it had not changed many lives?

    Her comment reminds me of what George Steiner used to say about the KGB: they were the only ones who took literature seriously.

    No doubt the KGB had learned from the monumental folly of the Tsarist censors, recounted by Mary Gabriel in Love and Capital (2011, pages 440–441):

    Marx’s Capital made it past Russian censors, who said it was so difficult to understand—if there was anything to understand—that no one would buy it, and in any case it would be impossible to prosecute in court because it was too mathematical and scientific. The only thing the censors would not allow was a picture of Marx in the book. (Marx biographer David McLellan said authorities felt that to do so “would imply too much respect for Marx’s personality.”) That minor point agreed, a print run of three thousand copies rolled off the press at the end of March 1872. It sold out remarkably quickly—in less than two months—and earned a readership much greater than its sales figures implied. Capital was often passed from one Russian reader to another, sometimes concealed inside the covers of the New Testament.

    You write books. Do you really expect almost no one to take them seriously? Far too many political thinkers today seem intent only on preaching to the converted. On this particular point I agree with (the title of) one book by traditionalist Southern conservative Richard M. Weaver: Ideas Have Consequences.

  8. Paul H. Rosenberg August 3, 2012 at 9:14 am | #

    I must agree that misreading a book doesn’t deserve the level of respect that reading a book does–unless, of course, it’s a very inventive or fruitful misreading. By their fruits ye shall know them, after all. And Bachmann’s fruits… well, the less said, the better.

  9. willmcjunkin August 3, 2012 at 9:46 am | #

    Her comment reminds me of what George Steiner used to say about the KGB: they were the only ones who took literature seriously.

    I’d hardly describe Bachmann’s reaction here as “taking literature seriously” in Steiner’s sense. Remember that Goebbels was a scholar of German Romanticism. Now that’s the kind of shocking juxtaposition that fascinated people like Steiner and Arendt.

    But I agree with you insofar as here we have a person with the “naivete of soul”, as a Platonist like Allan Bloom might have put it, to even be open to a life-changing encounter in connection with a book in the first place, which is the slender threat that even we leftists can identify with in Bachmann. Ideas have consequences, indeed, as Douglas points out. Bachmann correctly recognized that one of her unconscious idols was under attack and changed her affiliations accordingly. And her transition was of course the same one made by so many others of the fundamentalist stripe around that same time — which is why Carter is such an anachronistic figure now.

  10. Randel Bird August 3, 2012 at 10:03 am | #

    What book did she read that made her bat shit crazy?

  11. jonnybutter August 3, 2012 at 10:18 am | #

    “And that snotty, mocking attitude, to me didn’t reflect in any way who we are as a nation. And I just thought that’s a completely different philosophical view of the United States.

    She is right to bring in philosophy, at least. Figuring out what the hell that statement purports to mean needs some Big Iron.

    Gore Vidal’s book didn’t make her the pinhead she is (albeit the ‘thinking person’s Sarah Palin’). In fact, I don’t believe her statement. Burr is not very mocking or snotty, as Vidal’s work goes. It’s probably his warmest, least acerbic, novel, in which he showed a lot of affection for many of its characters. Vidal was pretty famous at the time, and famous for being snotty, etc, so I think she just latched onto Burr. Bachmann was bound to become a Repub. one way or another because she doesn’t like facts and she does like strategic amnesia. She could have read anything beyond a high school history book and realized she is a conservative.

    • jonnybutter August 3, 2012 at 10:28 am | #

      Forgot to note that being a Dem in MN at the time was sort of a default postion, aside from the fact that Mondale was VP. There’s nothing shocking in the fact that she was a Dem.

    • Jon Johanning August 3, 2012 at 11:40 am | #

      That’s true, and taking her at her word that it was just reading this book that changed her life overlooks the obvious fact that she must have had her conservative, reactionary — whatever you want to call it — world view before she picked the book up. Otherwise she wouldn’t have reacted to it the way she did. Plenty of other people have read GV’s books without reacting that way.

  12. Gina August 3, 2012 at 10:35 am | #

    Coincidentally, Michele Bachmann convinced ME that I was NOT a conservative.
    And after I read – “The Reactionary Mind” – I understood why.
    Thankyou Mr. Robin

  13. Theo August 3, 2012 at 11:50 am | #

    Sometimes, Corey, you say the strangest things, unless your only point is that she knows what she believes and sticks to it. That can be good or evil or any degree of one or the other along a spectrum depending on the nature of the belief and its repercussions in the world.

  14. troy grant August 3, 2012 at 12:16 pm | #

    From “Nation of Change”:

    Libelous Lies About Liberals

    Democrats have allowed the Republican Party to brand liberals and liberalism as a radical ideology rather than a mainstream alternative to the extreme right-wing ideology that now passes for conservatism in this country.

    The Republican definition of what it means to be a liberal is false and fictitious but has now become so infused into the political vernacular and fixed in the public mind that simply setting the record state requires a Herculean effort.

    As a first step, here is a short list of big lies about liberals.

    Big Lie #1: Liberals are all alike – tree hugging clones who agree about everything from abortion and arms control to Zoloft and Zoroastrianism.

    No, in fact that would be the new Republicans – the folks who watch FOX News religiously, follow the party line like lemmings, and are not in the least troubled by the tawdry methods that FOX uses to distort the words and views of those it opposes.

    One of the reasons why liberals are so astonishingly ineffectual at hammering home specific messages is precisely because, unlike today’s knee-jerk conservatives, liberals do not march in lockstep on much of anything, including the burning issues of the day.

    Unlike the Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly, liberals tend to treat people of all hues and views with respect. That respect, however, is put to the extreme test when we are constantly bombarded with toxic untruths extolling the trickle down theory (purporting to show how the extreme concentration of wealth in society benefits us all) or the dickish idea that greed is good – dickish as in Dick Cheney, Dick Armey, and Dick Tuck.

    Big Lie #2: Liberals and progressives are wannabe European socialists (and as all “real Americans” know in their bones, that’s a bad thing).

    Here’s Dick Armey speaking to the National Press Club in 2010: “Jamestown colony, when it was first founded as a socialist venture, dang near failed with everybody dead and dying in the snow.”

    As though that bit of historical buffoonery wasn’t enough, he continued, “The small-government conservative movement, which includes people who call themselves the tea party patriots and so forth, is about the principles of liberty as embodied in the Constitution, the understanding of which is fleshed out if you read things like the Federalist Papers.”

    Help us speak truth to power. Donate what you can afford to support NationofChange.

    And then came the zinger: Democrats and other “people here who do not cherish America the way we do,” he explained, “did not read the Federalist Papers.” The publication Armey referenced (but apparently hasn’t actually read) is, of course, the collection of papers forever associated with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton was an ardent advocate of a strong central government – the very antithesis of Armey’s wondrous “small-government conservative movement”. Anyone who reads and understands the Federalist Papers, or knows anything at all about the controversy among the Founders over this fundamental question, cannot fail to see the absurdity in this Dick’s version of reality.
    To confuse liberalism with socialism is to prove conclusively that a) you have no idea what socialism is, b) you know nothing about the long and venerable tradition of liberal and progressive political thought in America, c) you have absolutely no regard for the truth, or d) all of the above.

    Moreover, it’s an insult to the vast majority of voters whose everyday values (for example, fairness, honesty, and civility) are far more closely aligned with those of liberals and progressives than with ultra-conservative apologists for the plutocracy. Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, and, above all, Walter Mitt Romney, have come to personify wealth and privilege – the 1% – in the mind of most middle-class Americans. (If you happen to be betting the farm on a Republican victory in November, you ought to be pushing the panic button about now.)

    Big Lie #3: Liberals and progressives are anti-business and don’t understand basic economics, including the role of competitive markets in promoting prosperity and creating the world’s most technologically advanced societies.

    That’s dead wrong. In fact, 20th century conservatives are deeply indebted to 19th century liberals. By contrast, today’s so-called conservatives lie not only about liberals but also about markets and about the relationship between government and a functioning market economy. They incessantly sing the praises of the “free market” and condemn all manner of “state regulation” – the red tape, rules, and oversight that supposedly strangle business and stifle initiative.
    They inveigh against subsidies and government handouts aimed at helping the needy (or ever-so-slightly leveling the playing field), but they demand (and get) special tax breaks for the rich, subsidies for oil companies, and bailouts for banks too big to fail, not to mention insurance giants (think AIG), auto manufacturers, et cetera. These are but a few of the more egregious examples of the fiscal hypocrisy stalking the corridors of Capitol Hill and the suites of Corporate America.

    The truth is that there is no free market, never has been, never will be. All markets are regulated, shaped in a political mold of rules, privileges, and protections. It’s not the rules that make markets dysfunctional; it’s the privileges and protections that distort the natural forces of supply and demand. In other words, it’s big business that gets in its own way by recognizing no limits and observing no self-restraint in the pursuit of plunder, prey, and profit. How else to explain the mysteries of the New Derivative Economy, the ascendancy of a feral company called Wal-Mart (ranked #1 on Fortune’s Global 500), or the baneful business model of “venture capitalists” and commercial vultures like Bain Capital?

    Liberals understand that without vigorous competition markets can’t work their magic. Competition, not domination, is the key to efficiency and innovation. When conservatives talk about “creative destruction” it’s a ruse; what they are saying is the best way to compete is to kill off the competition – precisely what Marx meant when he observed that modern capitalists (the “bourgeoisie”) produce their own gravediggers. The proper role of the state in a market economy is not to protect producers but to insure competitiveness. Republicans once embraced this principle. Liberals still do.

    Big Lie #4: Liberals don’t care about deficits; they want to redistribute money from the most productive members of society (the rich) to the least productive (loafers and laggards) who love living on “welfare”; liberals are in favor of “handouts” and “giveaways” and throwing good money after bad.

    This is one of the most invidious charges the far right levels at liberals. Talk about hypocrisy! Remember the guy who declared back in 2002 that Ronald Reagan proved “deficits don’t matter”? That was Dick Cheney. And speaking of Reagan, the national debt grew by 189% during President Reagan’s two terms in office (1980-1988). Under Reagan’s Democratic predecessor, Jimmy Carter, the national debt did not exceed 35% of GDP; at the end of Reagan’s tenure in the White House it was 52.6% (advancing at an average annual rate of 23.6%).

    During the Clinton presidency (1992-2000), annual deficits were reduced (to a manageable 4.4% per year on average) and something approximating a balanced budget was actually achieved during Bill Clinton’s tumultuous second term. When George W. Bush succeeded Clinton, the federal deficits rose sharply and the national debt ballooned to 74% of GDP.

    True, it has risen to 95% of GDP under President Obama. But the attack dogs for the Republican Party conveniently fail to mention that federal deficits since 9-11 were (and are) tied to defense spending and, since the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, to the multibillion dollar bank bail-out. Big defense budgets and big bank bailouts are both Republican causes. Not a penny of the national debt can be blamed on the new Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, which is phased in and doesn’t really take effect (with health care exchanges) until 2014.

    Meanwhile, the federal government, with zealous support from Republicans, continues to outspend the rest of the world on military weaponry and self-defeating wars. By the narrowest measure (excluding many items that are clearly related to national security) the US accounts for some 43% of total global defense spending. Including intelligence, nuclear energy, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (treated as “supplemental funding” until 2010 and thus, in defiance of all logic, not reflected in annual military spending prior to that time), the US spends more than the rest of the world combined.

    Similarly, the big Bush and Obama stimulus packages went primarily to big banks and corporations, not the middle class. These big “giveaways” – combined with the tax cuts for the rich – were (and are) subsidies (or “tax expenditures”) that primarily benefit those least in need of federal assistance. To use the term Republicans throw around so loosely, it is socialism for the super rich.

    Big Lie #5: Conservatives are patriotic and love this country more than the dovish liberals who have proven time and again that they lack the courage, vigilance, and resolve to meet and defeat the enemies of freedom and democracy.

    Pure rubbish. Guess what socio-economic strata (“social classes” to use the time-honored term) have produced the foot soldiers for America’s wars in the post-Vietnam era? Clue: the peak of the income pyramid is not the correct answer.

    Nor have the children of upper income families in general been well represented among the ranks of the enlisted men and women. And you’d be hard-pressed to find offspring of members of the US Congress in the enlisted ranks. And be it noted that neither Willard Mitt Romney nor any of his five sons has ever served a single day in the U.S. military.

    Military service means different things to different social classes. For the sons and daughters of legacy families and the nouveau riche, it likely means attendance at one the elite military academies – an all-expenses paid undergraduate education and a gold brick road to becoming an officer. Officers in the US armed forces are paid on a different scale than enlisted soldiers (“privates”) and receive generous benefits that continue even after they are no longer on active duty.

    It’s true that many military officers equate patriotism with Fox News, the Republican Party, monogamy, and regular church-attendance, but troops in the “trenches” are a different story altogether. They mostly come from the ranks of the lower middle classes and minorities – the rising socio-ethnic rainbow that overwhelmingly supports the Democratic Party.

    It’s no surprise the liars who have taken over the Republic Party would say things about liberals that aren’t true. The surprise is that the leaders of the Democratic Party have not done more to expose these lies – in effect, allowing the vilest politicians to discredit liberalism, malign liberals, and misrepresent what it means to be a responsible citizen in a society that values honesty, decency, fairness, and, above all, the healing power of truth.

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    Tom Magstadt earned his Ph.D. at The Johns Hopkins University School of International Studies. He is the author of “An Empire If You Can Keep It: Power and Principle in American Foreign Policy,” “Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions and Issues,” and “Nations and Governments: Comparative Politics in Regional Perspective.” He was a regular contributor to the Prague Post in 1998-99 and has published widely in newspapers, magazines and journals in the United States. He was a Fulbright Scholar in the Czech Republic in the mid-1990s and a visiting professor at the Air War College in 1990-92. He has taught at several universities, chaired two political science departments, and also did a stint as an intelligence analyst at the CIA. He is a member of the board of the International Relations Council of Kansas City. Now working mainly as a free-lance writer, he lives in Westwood Hills, Kansas.

  15. Lavandula August 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm | #

    It is also a very evangelical thing to believe that The Word as well as just plain words have that kind of life-changing power. . .

  16. calling all toasters August 3, 2012 at 2:59 pm | #

    I yoosta bee a Democrat ’til they started bein all unmurkin n such, n i dint need no Gore Veedal book nither. Makes me a genyus compurred to Senatur Bockmen. N Rush agrees with me n all.

  17. ScS August 3, 2012 at 5:17 pm | #

    you respect someone who calls someone who just died unamerican in a pretty ridiculous, stupid roundabout way?

  18. Sam Holloway August 3, 2012 at 6:29 pm | #

    There are different ways to respect someone. I concur with Mr. Robin here. It’s my estimation that Michelle Bachmann is sincere in sharing this anecdote (in sentiment if not in fact). More importantly, those who bankroll her campaigns understand that she is sincere. We can belittle her sanity and her intellect, but not her sincerity. If she is a fool or a loon, she is a sincere and evangelical one who has powerful and lucrative support (and milquetoast opposition). There are also millions of our fellow U.S. citizens nodding gratefully at her words.

    Consider the following, from an interview with Mike Lofgren:

    “Despite the carnival aspect of American politics, I actually credit Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Louie Gohmert, and the rest of them, with being sincere. They really believe the drivel they are saying, and their groping and inarticulate sincerity connects with a certain populist and anti-intellectual strain in the American people that has been evident since the days of de Tocqueville.

    “I find it very significant, for example, that the Kochs were early funders of Michele Bachmann’s presidential race. Titans of billion-dollar oil industries are, of course, too shrewd and cynical to believe the childish bosh that Bachmann spouts daily, but as a political stooge, she is worth the investment. ”

    Read the rest.


  19. jonnybutter August 3, 2012 at 6:47 pm | #

    It’s my estimation that Michelle Bachmann is sincere in sharing this anecdote (in sentiment if not in fact).

    Likewise, in an ethical contest between a cynical Republican asshole pol who race-baits in a campaign, knowing full well it’s sleazy, vs. a sincere racist, you have to abhor the sincere, if pathetic, racist a bit less, I think. He/she is at least being sincere, whereas the ‘smart’, ‘tough’ (in DC speak) tactics of the GOP pol are worse because he *knows* better. In the putrid ethos of DC, the fact that the pol can truthfully claim to ‘not have a racist bone’ in his body is supposed to be exculpatory, when it is actually all the more damning. Of course no one notices…

    Yes, there are different ways of respecting someone.

    • Sam Holloway August 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm | #

      It’s probably less about whom you’d abhor, and more about being aware of what you’re up against. The ‘true believer’ is far more dangerous, and (according to Lofgren) it speaks volumes that so many right-wing true believers are being bankrolled by our more reactionary elites. Whether or not the elites envision an end game that involves the peculiar proclivities and inclinations of the true believers, such a dire set of possibilities awaits us nonetheless.

      • jonnybutter August 3, 2012 at 9:56 pm | #

        If the subject is degrees of ethical culpability, or different kinds of respect – which I thought it was! – I think it is about whom you would abhor less in this case.

        However…I don’t think it’s obvious that the true believer is ‘far more dangerous’ than the cynical person who abets the believer. How do you even measure that?

  20. Sam Holloway August 3, 2012 at 10:24 pm | #

    That’s a great point, and I suppose it depends on which part of the process you’re focusing. In the incipient stages, when the cynical abetter is grooming, backing, or pushing the true believers, you could say the abetter is more culpable and also more dangerous. However, there is historical precedent to suggest that if given enough power, the true believers can become quite destructive (perhaps beyond the intent of the abetter, perhaps not).

    That said, the connotation of respect to which I was referring was that which one would give to a snarling pit bull behind a junkyard fence, not the respect that one would give to an accomplished musical composer. It’s easy to dismiss Michele Bachmann and the teabaggers as cranks or clowns; but their kind is all but running things now, and their milquetoast opposition currently consists of a corporatist bloc of centrists who are loath to attack the loci and infrastructures of power that the cranks and clowns (the true believers, especially) can’t wait to transform into our very own holocaust.

    • jonnybutter August 3, 2012 at 10:43 pm | #

      It’s easy to dismiss Michele Bachmann and the teabaggers as cranks or clowns..

      I hear that. I mean, they are cranks and clowns, but they aren’t *merely* those.

  21. Claude Horvath August 4, 2012 at 1:19 pm | #

    pencil me in for jonnybutter’s 3 August 2012 contribution. Please, some judiciousness about “newfound—and sincere—respect for Bachmann”. A defiantly ignorant Joe McCarthy wannabe. (and that religious clap-trappery!)

  22. Dene Karaus August 5, 2012 at 11:36 am | #

    For someone to completely change their ideology, which many “respected” thinkers have done, to me smacks of a lack of intellectual integrity. On what were your original “politics” based? How does yesterday’s “truth” become today’s falsity. Growth over a long period of reflection, yes. Reading a book? Please!

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