God and gays: the rise of Michele Bachmann

"Late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy" she may be, but Michele Bachmann could be the next President, says <e

For now Michele Bachmann is the main show in the race for the Republican candidacy. Bachmann is the only fascinating candidate in a field that is otherwise populated by dreary, white Mormon guys (and Herman Cain). Matt Taibbi has penned an astonishing 5,000 word profile of the Congresswoman from Minnesota in this month's Rolling Stone.

In a profile stuffed full of potentially libellous comments -- at one point Taibbi accuses Bachmann of "pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying" -- a bizarre portrait of Bachmann's rise to fame and relative power emerges.

A few highlights include:

The moment when she hides behind a bush during a gay rights rally in 2005:

A photo shows Bachmann, only the top of her Stepford head visible, crouched alone in an extreme catcher's squat behind the Capitol shrubbery. She later insisted she wasn't hiding at all, but resting because her heels hurt.

The moment when Bachmann claims that she was attacked by two lesbains in a toilert.

Depending on whom you believe -- and by that I mean which of Bachmann's own competing versions of the story you believe -- Bachmann either left the meeting to avoid the activists, or excused herself to "use the restroom" only to be "held against her will" there by what may or may not have been a pair of angry lesbians. She reported the incident to the Washington County sheriff: "Sen. Bachman [sic] stated that when she was trying to leave, 2 women blocked her in and told her they wanted to continue talking. Sen. Bachman stated she was afraid and screamed for help. The 2 women let her leave the restroom when she screamed."

Taibbi makes the case - as do I - that Bachmann is a potentially strong candidate, despite her frankly bizarre career so far. Ezra Klein described Bachmann as the candidate Sarah Palin was "supposed to be", and Taibbi agrees, sort of:

Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination.

Indeed, he continues, Bachmann has incredible strengths as a politician:

The public has become acquainted with some of Bachmann's other excellent qualities as a politician -- her TV-ready looks, her easy confidence in public speaking, her quick command of a mountainous database of (frequently bogus) facts -- but often overlooked is her greatest quality, the gigantic set of burnished titanium Terminator-testicles swinging under her skirt.

According to Taibbi, then, Bachmann is a lying, gay-obssessed, Bible-nut who has rose to power thanks to chutzpah and a pair of over-sized testicles. She could also easily be the next Republican candidate for President.

Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy -- crazy in the sense that she's living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

Read it. It's long, but it's brilliant.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.