Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Not all Minnesotans are above average

For years, I've listened to Garrison Keillor on the radio talking about his hometown in Minnesota where "all the womean are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average" and I guess I had bought the fiction that somehow Minnesotans are special and "above average". We now have living proof that that is not true. We have Michele Bachmann.

The Republican congresswoman from Minnesota is following in the footsteps of her idol, Sarah Palin. (I fully expect that any day now she will be announcing that she is running for president in 2012.) Her grasp of history is certainly on a par with Palin. An article in Salon.com today makes that perfectly clear.

The article outlines one of Bachmann's latest fictionalized autobiographical accounts. (There have been many.) It tells how she had a Damascus Road style conversion from being a flaming liberal to being an enlightened Republican. Strangely enough, it is all Gore Vidal's fault.

You see, back in the '70s, Vidal wrote a historical novel called Burr. Cynicism is Vidal's stock in trade as a writer and this book was typical of that. He wrote about Aaron Burr and the other founders of the republic in such a way that indicated that they were complex human beings, not always paragons of virtue. They could be calculating and morally corrupt, not unlike many politicians today. Well, impressionable young Michelle was trying to read that book on a train while she was campaigning for Jimmy Carter in 1976. But all of a sudden, in a flash of insight, it came to her that this book was an ungodly founder-hating work that was so violent in its anti-American rhetoric that it redirected her whole political belief system!

She now says about that experience:
"I knew that that was not representative of my country, and at that point I put the book down in my lap… and I said, you know what, I think I must be a Republican. And from that moment on I recognized that it was the Republican Party, and conservatives in particular, who really got America … unashamed about the values that the founders lived and died and shed their blood and their treasure for; because when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, the greatest document, in my mind, ever written by political geniuses, they wrote that it was a Creator who gave us our rights."


And so a baby Republican was born and today that baby has grown up into the crazy lady who represents a district in Minnesota where the voters are most assuredly not above average since they elected her.

What Bachmann found so offensive about that book back in 1976 was its irreverent attitude toward the founders. But then, the book was clearly labeled as fiction, as is Bachmann's characterization of those men as saints. They weren't. They could be petty and mocking and nasty towards each other and, if they could do it, why shouldn't a 20th century writer be able to write about them in that way?

Bachmann purports to believe a fictionalized rose-colored glasses account of our history and the founders of the country. It suits her purpose and her narrative of her own life. I wonder, though, what Thomas Jefferson or, for that matter, Aaron Burr, would make of Ms. Bachmann. I somehow doubt that their view of her would be equally rose-colored.

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