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Michele Bachmann

Ryan Lizza at the New Yorker has a fascinating profile of Michele Bachmann in this week’s issue. From the article:

Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians. Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared. Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is “personal enslavement,” and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, “little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.” Speaking about gay-rights activists, that same year, she said, “It is our children that is the prize for this community.” She believes that evolution is a theory that has “never been proven,” and that intelligent design should be taught in schools.

None of the ideas attributed to Bachmann are particularly new.  Her views on homosexuality are close to the conventional wisdom of thirty years ago; her views on evolution would not raise eyebrows in much of the United States.  As a lifelong believer that one can be a serious Christian as well as a student of evolution, and also as one who believes that bigotry and fear have more to do with traditional popular attitudes toward homosexuality in this country than deep theological reflection, I hope future presidents will be supporters of both tolerance and free scientific research.

The horror with which many elite liberals view the rise of politicians like Bachmann, however, doesn’t impress me.  Cultural and political elites are losing some of their power to determine what is acceptable political discourse and what ideas are permitted into the public square.  The eruption of so many controversial and populist ideas into public discourse is very postmodern and reeks of diversity; it is interesting how little liberals welcome real diversity of opinion and culture when it appears.

My own questions about Congressman Bachmann are pretty much the ones I have about Governor Palin, President Obama and, for that matter, about former President George W. Bush.  In all of these cases Americans were convinced that an inexperienced politician would make a good president because of ‘instincts’ and ‘values’.  Buyers’ remorse quickly set in with the last two presidents.

I would like to see Congressman Bachmann gain executive experience governing a state and gain some experience in foreign affairs before making a run for the top office in the country.  I wished then and wish now that President Obama had done the same thing, and I wished many times during President Bush’s tenure that he had come to the Oval Office with a better feel for how international relations actually work.

Good intentions alone do not good presidents make.

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  • Atlanta Lawyer

    I’m not sure I understand your complaint about George W. Bush not having an understanding of foreign relations before becoming President. Since most of our candidates for President are governors or members of Congress, they really don’t get a chance to have foreign policy experience. Think about it — Kennedy, LBJ, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Clinton all had little or no experience in foreign policy prior to their presidencies. Nixon and George H.W. Bush did have significant experience, but they are really the exceptions these day.

  • Kris

    Ryan Lizza: “Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin”.

    More extreme than Sarah Palin?! How can that possibly be?


  • Andrew

    Although I agree that Congresswoman Bachmann has not demonstrated fitness for the office of President, I’m surprised that you chose to focus on her Christianity rather than her deluded beliefs, which alone guarantee that she could not be elected President. Like you, most thinking practicing Christians accept science, but a lot of people think that belief in the Holy Trinity is pretty weird too! That doesn’t stop them from electing Christians

  • Richard F. Miller

    One thing I absorbed well (and which has worn well) from my adolescent infatuation with Karl Marx was to beware of upper class narcissism. (Pauline Kael on Nixon’s election is the paradigm here.)

    When high rent journalists purport to know what is “commonly known to secular Americans” or begin to define “what belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives,” (or even if there exists such a thing as “a generation of Christian conservatives”), watch out.

    Such declarations are not necessarily false, but should be accorded no more credit than you might give say, testimony about Turkey from a man whose knowledge about Turkey came from watching a movie about Turkey.

    Service in the citizen armies of WWII and Korea taught many Americans much about other Americans whose socio-economic paths they would never otherwise have crossed. When this mediating experience ended, social classes, especially the upper-middle, became far isolated from the experience of their fellows.

    That is one reason why mainstream reporting on the Tea Party was (and remains) so bizarre.

    These are great sources for what high enders think, but verisimilitude is merely coincidental.

  • http://none Gern

    It is strange that you mention foreign policy experience and “inexperienced politician.” The most recent experienced politician and one with foreign policy experience was Bush Sr., but he was not re-elected to a second term. As you know, Clinton and George W. Bush were elected for two terms. “Instincts and Values” are the definitive traits for being a good president because it is what forms the basis for their world view. They matter the most.

  • Dean M.

    While values are very important, I agree with the writer that there is no substitute for experience. I also concur with the need of real diversity of opinion in the public forum.

    On the other hand, there is no substitute for talent and ability. All the experience in the world will not make up for a lack of natural leadership ability.

    People are looking for that natural leader who shares their values. President Bush lost confidence in himself for whatever reason. His political enemies saw “blood” and went in for the kill (called “Bush derrangement syndrome”). Obama walks a tightrope trying to balance his post colonial rage against the system that has given him power. This creates all kinds of paradoxes for him.

    It remains to be seen what talent Bachman may or may not have, whether or not one agrees with her values and viewpoint.

  • Mike M.

    Get ready for the most vicious, negative presidential campaign from the left we’ve seen in our lifetime.

    With the notable exception of Bin Laden, Obama certainly can’t run on his horrible record, and he knows it. That’s why he has already quietly indicated that his campaign is going to be based on attempting to personally destroy Bachmann, Romney, or whoever else might win the nomination.

  • ARH

    Mr. Mead,

    I completely agree with the statement that “….bigotry and fear have more to do with traditional popular attitudes toward homosexuality in this country than deep theological reflection…” However, what bothers me is the casual discarding of religion as a symbolic shield for such bigotry. If conservatives, even if truly motivated by a deep seeded cultural disdain for homosexuality, use religious messaging as a way of spreading such disdain, can you really completely detach the intolerance from the vehicle through which it is spread? If they are falsely using religion as a symbolic shield for the legitimacy of their beliefs, perhaps more time should be spent commenting on where they are wrong, rather than pitching a sacrificial bone to reasonableness, and using it as a segway to turn your guns on the “liberal elites.”

    I’m curious if you have ever, or would ever, consider an essay on the disparities between religious teachings, based on the general consensus of well published theologians, and the populists adherents who take a more selective acceptance of religion based on their own cultural backgrounds. Perhaps they are not so righteous as they think.

    Populist anti-elitism is every bit the same thing as what it purports to hate most – a natural human distrust for something it doesn’t understand. Just like “liberal elites” don’t understand their less cosmopolitan, more religious countrymen, conservative populists look down their noses at those less pious, less patriotic (or as I often see it, nationalist), and generally less virtuous brethren. While the term “liberal elite” solicits a pavlovian response from conservative readers, it’s a similar phenomena to what you’ll find on the left, or right, of any human society.



  • Richard S

    What does Bachmann mean by “intelligent design”? Darwin presumes that there are random mutations in the gene code. Those that are adaptive survive, and perhaps thrive and those that are not die off. But, as far as I know, we do not know what causes these mutations. They might be random replicating errors. But that’s conjecture. Providence might cause the “random” mutations.

  • Pete Dellas

    Let’s not make the mistake of thinking that her opinions about homosexuality or evolution would mean that she will mistreat people or make a poor president. My guess is that the vast majority of our presidents believed as she does and many have had successful adiministrations. Her opinions reflect many people’s opinion on those issues. I highly doubt any conclusions can be drawn from that about her leadership other than, perhaps, that she tends to think in “conservative” or “traditional” thought patterns.

    As a Libertarian, I prefer the government stay out of as much as possible–particularly personal relationships. I don’t believe government should endorse nor condemn any sexual lifestyle, unless it exploits children or those who are mentally incapable of giving consent. As a Christian, I am opposed to homosexuality. But those two positions are not contradictory. I don’t believe it is appropriate to use the force of law to impose my views of sex on society. Christ didn’t.

  • M. Bouffant

    The eruption of so many controversial and populist ideas into public discourse is very postmodern and reeks of diversity; it is interesting how little liberals welcome real diversity of opinion and culture when it appears.

    How true. There certainly hasn’t been enough discussion of what a great favor all the Christian slave-owners did for their chattel property.

    And let’s get back to that “conventional wisdom of thirty years ago.”

    But why stop at thirty? Perhaps a discussion of how women really shouldn’t have the vote is called for?

    Maybe we can solve the health care problem by vigorous debate about returning to the theories of the four humours.

  • Doug Page

    I’m in agreement with you but I also think Clinton was a disappointment as president. Had he kept his pants on, I think he could have been far more effective than he was. That said, he was one of the better presidents we’ve had, certainly compared to the current one.

    It’s very interesting about the presidency. It’s a very, very demanding job and the last thing the country needs is a candidate who’s first leadership job is the one that has the Oval Office as their workplace.

    Hillary Clinton and John McCain would have been far stronger presidents than Barack Obama.

    Maybe we need to draft New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the job.

    At the very least, he understands numbers, and we could use a finance guy right now.

  • Whit

    The only presidents I can think that come close to matching what Mead claims is his preference for candidates to have true foreign service experience are John Adams and John Q Adams. Of course both obtained such service through circumstances that are now neigh impossible (The father because of his service in the first Congresses-he was able to write the book on American Foreign Policy and the son because he was able to tag along for the ride with his father and then go on to his own distinguished foreign service career). Both subsequently only served one term as President, losing to populist Candidates. Our foreign service as currently structured makes it unlikely to ever produce a candidate for high office. Such service tends to make one very wonky and short on domestic political experience, legislatively or executive. Mead should really expand on his thoughts here.

  • Arjun

    Ignorance must truly be bliss, baseuce Bachmann is usually seen with a smile on her face. Of course, she doesn’t realize how many of us are smiling back at her–or is that laughing at her [ideas with which I disagree]?

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