Michele Bachmann: Palin version 2.0? When it comes to gay rights, yes.

Is it possible that Michele Bachmann's position on gay rights makes Sarah Palin look sensible?

Back in 2008, then vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin referred to homosexuality as a "choice". This was hardly surprising. Palin had already established herself as a Bible-bashing "traditionalist". So for her to spout such ignorance in relation to being gay was about as surprising as hearing Nick Griffin mention that he doesn't care much for Muslims.

 

As much as this talk of the unholy homosexual "lifestyle choice" was expected from Palin, it was still abhorrent. I wasn't aware that I'd "chosen" to be gay -- thank you, Mrs Palin, for letting me know. How much more openly homophobic could a mainstream political figure afford to be? Quite a lot, it turns out.

Enter now Congresswoman Bachmann.

In a recent interview with NBC, which quickly became a YouTube hit, Michele Bachmann was played some audio from a speech she made at a 2004 educational conference. According to the Bachmann of seven years ago, homosexuality is, wait for it... "A part of Satan".

 

Can't we go back to it just being a "choice"? I'm gay, but I'm at least a little bit more comfortable with being told that I chose to be, rather than the soul-torturing lord of the fiery realms of Perdition having forced me into my sexuality with the business end of his fork.

But anyway, what did the 2011, potential president, Bachmann have to say about her 2004 self's little slur? "I'm running for president of the United States, I'm not running to be anyone's judge". But Congresswoman, surely you've already made a judgement, and not a very nice one at that? The interviewer replied with something along those lines, only to be told again by the squirming Bachmann that she "isn't anyone's judge".

Sadly, the interviewer didn't do a Paxman and demand that the Congresswoman answer the question properly, until she was curled in a foetal position on the floor, weeping and praying for oblivion. She pretty much got away with her pathetically evasive answer.

But enough of Bachmann's rhetoric, let's look at the facts. The Congresswoman has made clear that, if she wins the presidency, she will do everything in her power to reinstate the controversial 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy for the US military, which has only just been abolished.

 

Palin, on the other hand, made the news earlier this year when she re-tweeted gay conservative Tammy Bruce calling DADT "hypocritical". OK, so the former Governor of Alaska may not exactly have draped herself in a rainbow flag and joined the nearest gay pride parade, but compared to Michele "gays are from hell" Bachmann, she's starting to look very much like the lesser of two evils.

What's more, Palin supported the inclusion of gay Republican group GoProud in this year's national Conservative Political Action Conference. As it turns out, the group was altogether banned from the conference - so all the more props to Palin for having, albeit unsuccessfully, stood up for them.
This, in light of the fact that Bachmann voted 'NO' on enforcing against anti-gay hate crimes, means that Palin is starting to look more and more, well, reasonable.

In the same interview where Plain referred to homosexuality as a "choice", Bachmann's fellow 2012 presidential hopeful, bless her heart, said that she has a close gay friend. As pitiful and "I'm-not-racist-I-have-a-black-friend"-like as this is, I very much doubt that Michele Bachmann has ever knowingly met a gay person, let alone acquired a GBF.

It's bizarre to think that, with President Palin, gay rights would be quite considerably less doomed than with President Bachmann. Both women are staunchly anti-gay marriage, yet Sarah Palin, right at the back of her mind (such as it is) seems to possess some vague notion that it's OK-(ish) to be gay. Bachmann, on the other hand, is to gay rights what an over-excited, muddy puppy is to a pile of freshly washed white bed sheets.
Although a Palin or Bachmann presidency may look too unlikely to worry about, it's still sad that, in mainstream US politics, minorities are so often forced to look for the lesser of evils.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war