With the recent straw poll during the Iowa State Fair—a pseudo-event if ever there was one—the presidential campaign of 2012 has begun in earnest.
But that does not mean that the campaign has gotten serious. Not when a character like Michele Bachmann is running around with a claim to be the front-runner for the Republican Party’s nomination.
Such a campaign might be described as pathetic. But serious? Not unless the nation’s Republicans truly are prepared to turn back the clock to a time and a place when gay people were denied dignity and civil rights, when people with foreign-sounding names and backgrounds were considered suspect, and when American policymakers and ordinary citizens conducted their business as though the rest of the world simply didn’t exist—or wasn’t worthy of consideration.
In the aftermath of the congresswoman’s showing in Iowa, some pundits noted that Ms. Bachmann appeals to some Republican voters because she speaks from the heart and believes what she says. And that is precisely why it seems so difficult to describe her success as anything but a sad and tragic farce.
In recent interviews in The New Yorker and on the television talk shows, Ms. Bachmann made many things clear, not the least of which is that she considers gay people to be something less than human. She and her husband are invested in the notion that they can “convert” gay people from their despicable lifestyle (in their view) to good, red-blooded, all-American heterosexuality.
Needless to say, the congresswoman from Minnesota is not a big fan of gay marriage or, indeed, of any efforts to accord gay people the same rights, liberties and freedoms she celebrates in her tiresome rhetoric. This, perhaps, should not come as a surprise, given that she has associated with people who seem to think that African Americans were better off under slavery—because, you see, the gentle, well-meaning, white slaveholders helped keep slave families intact, except, of course, when there was profit to be made in selling off a mother, a father or a few children.
If Michele Bachmann really does believe what she says, if she really does speak from the heart as some observers contend, she is perhaps the most mean-spirited, bigoted presidential aspirant since George Wallace in 1968. Like Wallace did, Ms. Bachmann opposes civil rights (for blacks, in Wallace’s case; for gays, in Ms. Bachmann’s). Like Wallace did, she seeks to capitalize on anger and frustration by pointing the finger of blame at others—the possibly foreign-born black man in the White House; the gays who prey on the innocent and the pure; the secularists who believe in the separation of church and state.
Michele Bachmann is to 2012 what Wallace was to 1968—a vicious figure whose rhetoric is designed to inflame hatred and resentment. Her rise to prominence shows that the forces of reaction and intolerance remain powerful in certain parts of the country and in certain factions of the Republican Party.
They may yet prevail, but only if the Republican Party as a whole refuses to get serious.