Thursday, June 23, 2011

Michele Bachmann is a Whackadoodle, but That Doesn't Mean She's Ignorable.

Victor Juhasz's illustration for Rolling Stone
Matt Taibbi has a great article on Michele Bachmann's political arc and why it's horrifying in Rolling Stone this month.  I love Taibbi and recommend everyone read his work; you can catch him on his blog - Taibblog - or regularly in Rolling Stone proper. 

Taibbi pairs his clear disdain for Bachmann's delusions and whackitude with an essential warning: that despite her craziness, she has proven a compelling and dangerous candidate.  During the 2008 campaign, I heard a lot of people on the left confidently assuming that Obama or any other Democrat would sweep to victory easily.  This was the excuse given for not campaigning that hard, for not voting, for not worrying about it.  This cannot happen again.  If Bachmann gets the GOP nomination, Obama will not have the edge on charisma that he did over McCain.  The economy, in lieu of real, robust assistance and reform on Wall Street, is going to fall again, and thanks to Murphy's Law, it will probably do so right before the elections, causing the same panic we saw before the 2008 cycle.  People already frustrated with economics they don't understand and government too busy bickering to foment real change are going to respond to that by voting against everyone in office, starting with a man many of them hate simply for being who he is.  (I'll leave you to decide which slur-tastic category of "being who he is" you'd like to assume the worst of them for.)  This is not the time to relax, and it's not the time to take Bachmann lightly. 

I assume that Taibbi is atheist or has atheist leanings, because he does seem to discount most religion as the stuff of delusion and blindness.  This is one of my least favorite attitudes.  I hope I can give Taibbi the benefit of the doubt here and assume that he knows that not all religion requires lockstep idiocy or inherently evil.  I think I am safe making this assumption because of this piece of the article:
"Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies."
That to me indicates an understanding that it is a certain kind of person - particularly a certain kind of religious person - who creates the problem he's discussing.  He is right to have concerns about this, and I hope that atheists take a moment to consider this.  I am religious and I find myself infuriated at the smugness and presumption of so many otherwise sane and compassionate atheists who simply cannot keep their overbearing attitude at bay.  I freely admit that there are plenty of religions that are damaging and do seek to impress their will on the general public through political actions, but not all do, and it would behoove atheists to bear that in mind, and to be more specific with their criticism lest they find themselves guilt of the same shaming and generalizing behavior they tend to criticize in religious people.  This is particularly resonant in the context of the above passage as pertains to Bachmann. 

No one gains anything from belittling the people whose faith Bachmann exploits for support.  It is Bachmann, playing on their fears in a scary time, who deserves our scorn.  Nor should we assume that those who oppose us politically are stupid.  Instead, we have to work to convince them that the people preying on their fears will lead them not into freedom but oppression.  To solve our problems, we must assume the best of our fellow Americans and work together for a better world.  We have bigger things at stake than petty divisions - and we cannot allow our revulsion at the success of people like Bachmann separate us. 

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