Don't let the repetitive coverage of Michele Bachmann as an increasingly mainstream, or at least ubiquitous, candidate fool you. She's a telegenic opportunist, yes, but there's no evidence that she is still anything but an extremist, strongly motivated by what's benignly known as "social issues."
A mammoth profile in this week's New Yorker suggests that much of what comes out of Michele Bachmann's mouth, including her views on slavery, is "not a gaffe. It is, as she would say, a world view." That includes being obsessed with abortion (she and her husband were "sidewalk counselors" outside clinics — you know what that means), homosexuality, and teaching Christian values in schools. The Tea Party and its ostensibly economic focus, it is suggested by the sheer absence of it in the profile, was simply conveniently timed.
Instead, the magazine's Ryan Lizza positions Bachmann firmly within an evangelical stream that is interested in curbing government only inasmuch as that represents the Antichrist or "authoritarian elite" that seeks to supplant God's authority. (Contrast that with the lighter-weight cover story in Newsweek this week, which calls her "the queen" of the Tea Party, or of rage, depending on which format you're reading in.)
Bachmann has said in a speech of finding her faith, "What it meant was that all of a sudden I had a father." She and her husband were spiritually influenced by a man, Francis Schaeffer, for whom Roe v. Wade represented all that was evil in the world and the government. All of this is pretty familiar territory for students of Bachmann, but Lizza stumbles on another influence of Bachmann, from "Michele's Must Read List," on her state senate campaign website. The work of J. Steven Wilkins explains why she kept insisting that our founding fathers fought to end slavery, and why she would see no problem in lauding the slave-era black family structure, such as it was able to exist.
Wilkins is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North. This revisionist take on the Civil War, known as the "theological war" thesis, had little resonance outside a small group of Southern historians until the mid-twentieth century, when Rushdoony and others began to popularize it in evangelical circles.
African slaves brought to America, he argues, were essentially lucky: "Africa, like any other pagan country, was permeated by the cruelty and barbarism typical of unbelieving cultures." Echoing Eidsmoe, Wilkins also approvingly cites [Robert E.] Lee's insistence that abolition could not come until "the sanctifying effects of Christianity" had time "to work in the black race and fit its people for freedom."
Slaveowners were simply doing the pagan blacks a favor by kidnapping them, forcing them to work for free, raping and brutalizing them, and breaking up their families. Because Jesus came along with all that!
The other takeway from the profile is the sheer, shallow thrill of watching the Bachmanns and team react to their own press, including Marcus's giddiness and Michele's cool control. He says to Lizza, "Newsweek came up with the word ‘silver fox.' Tell me what ‘silver fox' means....Oh, don't tell me it's something gay!" he said. "Because I've been called that before." And try and get this image out of your head of Marcus practically wetting his pants at watching his wife speak:
Marcus, who is not a small man, stood in the aisle, his white shirt untucked, and mouthed his wife's words as he watched. When she arrived at her big applause line-"Make no mistake about it, Barack Obama will be a one . . . term . . . President!"-Marcus recited it out loud and raised his fist. "That's powerful, that's good, that's excellent!" he said. "Yes, yes, yes!"
There is also the sausage-making of Bachmann's image, which like any female candidate involves having to balance demands to be both traditionally feminine and project gravitas. (Bachmann may not be doing herself favors by calling her plane a "'Barbie jet,' in homage to Barbie's pink Glam Vacation Jet, sold by Mattel"). A spokeswoman tells the press plane, "I know everything is on the record these days, but please just don't broadcast images of her in her casual clothes." (This is not an innovation — in 2008, an NBC spokesperson tried to get Tim Russert's gym outfit to be considered off the record.) Lizza brazenly defies this to bring us news of Bachmann's "casual blouse and khaki cargo pants." Does she require the projection of a "carefully groomed glamour" as Lizza puts it in remarking on her entourage's hair and makeup protocol, or does she just recognize that female candidates are held to a different standard?
But the point here is clear: Bachmann, Lizza declares, holds "a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared."