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Michele Bachmann's Holy War

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Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can't tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don't learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you're a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they're even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.

Bachmann is the champion of those tens of millions of Americans who have read and enjoyed the Left Behind books, the apocalyptic works of Christian fiction that posit an elaborate fantasy in which all the true believers are whisked off to heaven with a puff of smoke at the outset of Armageddon. Here on Earth, meanwhile, the guilty are bent to the will of a marauding Satan who appears at first in the guise of a smooth-talking, handsome, educated, pro-government, superficially pacifist, internationalist politician named Nicolae Carpathia — basically, Barack Obama. Bachmann has ties to the Left Behind crowd and has even said that Beverly LaHaye, wife of LB co-author and fundamentalist godfather Tim LaHaye, was her inspiration for entering politics.

As Bachmann has told and retold her story as one of divine inspiration, she has recast her biography in ever more grandiose directions. A great example is the issue of her "28 children." Bachmann has five kids and, something even her most withering critic should acknowledge, has cared for 23 foster kids. But in 2008 — 10 years after any of her foster children had been in her home — Bachmann was talking as though she was still dashing home from Congress to cook for them. "Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I'll buy food for the family," she said. "We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food."

It is difficult to tell whether this sort of thing is delusion, artifice or both. "I think Michele honestly believes whatever she says in the moment," says Cecconi.

It was the same in October 2008, when Bachmann went on Hardball With Chris Matthews and effectively accused both her fellow members of Congress and soon-to-be-president Barack Obama of being witches who should be thrown in a lake to see if they sank from lack of patriotism. "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America?" she said. "I think people would love to see an exposé like that." When the comment sparked a furious controversy, Bachmann responded by blaming Matthews, insisting that "I did not suggest the word 'anti-American.'" She wasn't mad that she was misquoted — she was furious because her views had been conveyed accurately, in a live television interview.

"There's always this mechanism available to Bachmann," says Elwyn Tinklenberg, the Democrat she defeated in the congressional election that fall. "No matter what they say, there is this attitude that 'these poor Christians are being picked on.'" Cecconi agrees, saying that Bachmann has discovered her blunders only serve to underscore her martyrdom. "I've seen her parlay that into 'Look how downtrodden I am,'" she says. "It works for her."

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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