Matthew Norman: Is America's plight so terrible that it would lurch this far?

Bewildering lack of knowledge, blind terror of others, paranoid hatred of Barack Obama... herein lies her appeal to the frothing far right

Wednesday 29 June 2011 00:00

Lovers of sledghammer irony, stand by for a doozy. Patience is required, while the odds are both fairly long and mortifyingly short, depending on the closeness of one's acquaintance with sanity. For all that, there is a quantifiable chance – about one in 20 on Betfair – that we will awake on 7 November 2012 to the news that Michele Bachmann is to be the 45th President of the United States.

If so – here's that irony – the person to thank for the election of a sensationally ignorant, anti-gay rights zealot will be not Rush Limbaugh or Rupert Murdoch. It will be that venerable grand dame of out-and-proud homosexuality, that paragon of cultured liberalism and intellectual hauteur, Gore Vidal. It was while reading a novel of his that the Minnesota congresswoman, then a liberal and erstwhile Jimmy Carter campaign volunteer, swapped sides.

"I was reading this snotty novel called Burr," she confided, "and read how he mocked our Founding Fathers. And as a reasonable, decent, fair-minded person" – no sarcasm detectable – "who happened to be a Democrat, I thought, 'You know what? This mocking of people that I revere, and the country that I love, and that I would lay my life down to defend ... At that point I put the book down. I looked out of the window, and I laughed. And I said, 'You know what? I think I must be a Republican. I don't think I'm a Democrat'."

This week, some 30 years after that epiphany, she formally declared her candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination. Everyone expected a borderline barking mom of five, narcissist Tea Party MILF to have a crack. Just not, until recently, this one. There is still a small chance that Sarah Palin will also run. Watching Bachmann soak up all the publicity might stir her into action. You cannot discount the motivational power of Vidal's dictum that every time a friend succeeds, a little piece of me dies.

Yet Palin's unfavourable ratings with Republicans, let alone independents, are so horrendous that even in her protective bubble of zany self-absorption, she must see that any campaign would be a kamikaze one. Bachmann, on the other hand, has swiftly soared into a share of the polling lead with Mitt Romney. The sleeper in this campaign is a good ol' boy Texas Governor with a hotline to the Lord and a passion for executing prisoners – and it's been much too long since one of those occupied the Oval Office – by the name of Rick Perry. If he enters the fray, everything will change. For now, this race is shaping into the usual primary battle between the establishment front-runner (Romney) and, in Bachmann, the telegenic insurgent.

This in mind, three questions pose themselves. Could she seize the White House? Can she even win the GOP nomination? And just how thick or crazy, or both, is Michele Bachmann? In tribute to the late Eric Morley, we will take them in reverse order. While accurately gauging her idiocy-derangement ratio is hard in the absence of a psychiatric report, Bachmann's mouth is a reliable launch pad for astounding foolishness. To cheer us all up – if you can't have a giggle at the thought of the codes falling into such hands, when can you? – here are some highlights.

Wittily replicating the Vidalian impertinence that reshaped her political allegiance, she mocked the Founding Fathers in January by lauding them for "working tirelessly until slavery was no more in the US". Those would be the FFs who in 1776, a mere 89 years before abolition, agreed that an African-American legally constituted three fifths of a human being, and enshrined slavery in the Constitution?

According to Bachmann, meanwhile, the greatest threat the US faces is nothing so footling as the deficit or long-term mass unemployment (let alone the global warming she inevitably regards as "a hoax"), but gay marriage.

Passing over her defence of carbon dioxide, which she says cannot harm humans because it (like arsenic and uranium) occurs naturally, let's end the resumé with this peach. "It was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out under another Democratic president," she said in reference to her erstwhile idol Mr Carter. "I'm not blaming this on President Obama. I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

In the above lies her appeal to the frothing far right ... bewildering lack of knowledge; blind terror of otherness; and – the latter's kissing cousin – paranoid hatred of Barack Obama. Add to that her Palinic gift for viscerally resonating with her base and its prejudices, the facility to raise fortunes, undeniable can-do charm and good humour, and a talent for spouting drivel with sublime confidence then blaming the lamestream media for accurately reporting it ... and this is one formidable candidate. With her native state of Iowa the first to vote, her campaign should get off to a flier. With momentum in an unusually volatile political climate, Bachmann, who slaughtered all-comers in her one televised debate so far, certainly could defeat Romney.

The presidency is another matter. Is it conceivable that the love child of Mrs Robinson and Glenn Beck – the sub-McCarthyite minx who uses the Commie code word "unAmerican" of her president; the Creationist whose career is guided at every turn by divine visions; the wingnut's wingnut who claims her government is colluding with the Chinese to abolish the dollar – could unseat the incumbent?

At this point, convention demands the disclaimer that stranger political things have happened. But unless I slept through Lembit Opik's appointment as High Chancellor of a federated Europe, or Eric Pickles shaving 0.02 seconds off Usain Bolt's 100m world record, they haven't. However wretched the US economy, however stubbornly unemployment hovers close to 10 per cent, however self-destructive America's mood as it rages against the dying of the imperial light, Michele Bachmann is surely a lurch along the politico-comic interface too far.

Common sense insists that Mr Vidal will never come closer to deciding the presidency than any influence he exerted over his cousin Al Gore. Then again, what possible role has common sense played in her vertiginous rise so far? All we know for sure is that her name's Michele Bachmann, that she's running for president, and that watching her do so will be as much fun as anyone has a right to expect within the law.

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