The GOP's Worst Medicine

Michele Bachmann's newest bungle (wrongly pinning the last flu scare on a Democrat) shows disdain for both facts and logic. Eric Alterman takes on Congress' mad bomber.

Win McNamee / Getty Images

You may have noticed Rep. Michele Bachmann’s “interesting” (her word, not mine) observation “that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president, Jimmy Carter.” Bachmann insists that she’s “not blaming this on President Obama.” Not her. Rather, she wishes to reiterate that she “just think(s) it's an interesting coincidence.” She said this on something called “Pajamas TV”—a name that puts one in mind, methinks, of the old cable show that Screw Magazine’s Al Goldstein used to host after midnight in New York for strippers, both male and female, to show their respective wares. Whether pajama-clad or dressed for excess, you’ve got to hand it to this Bachmann woman. After all, anyone can be incoherent, malevolent, and factually incorrect at any time. But it takes real talent to pull off all three simultaneously.

As amazingly idiotic as Bachmann’s swine-flu comments may be, they do not actually exceed her past levels of stupidity, malevolence, and factual incorrectness.

Think about it. What exactly is “interesting” about this alleged coincidence? Even Bachmann won’t say. Think of all the other potentially “interesting” coincidences that have characterized recent Democratic presidencies. The Mets bullpen blew easy games. The Who broke up and did a reunion tour. Liza went in and out of rehab. A member of the Grateful Dead died a drug-related death. Interesting….

Actually, it’s not so interesting, it’s wrong. The truth is that while even Bachmann cannot figure out how to link these things, she might not as well bother trying because Gerald Ford was president during the last outbreak of the virus. Damn.

Still, as amazingly idiotic as Bachmann’s swine-flu comments may be, they do not actually exceed her past levels of stupidity, malevolence, and factual incorrectness. Not long ago, she was complaining about Obama’s economic policies and sought to make an analogy to the disastrous " Hoot-Smalley Tariff," which she says led FDR to turn the “recession into a depression.” Again, we have a few problems here. In the first place, it was the Smoot-Hawley Act that raised tariffs to historic levels and which many economists blame for significantly reducing levels of international trade and subsequent economic activity. In the second, it was, alas, signed by a Republican: Herbert Hoover. It passed a year into the Great Depression.

Yes, this Bachmann woman sure is entertaining. Bloggers Dylan and Ethan Ris recently said, "We're seriously tempted to stop doing any work and simply replace our blog posts with an RSS feed of stories about Rep. Michele Bachmann." If this is your cup of tea, then be my guest. There’s Bachmann complaining of the totalitarian-style re-education camps that the Democrats have planned for America (by which she means the “Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act” for AmeriCorps). There are complaints that we are "running out of rich people in this country"; that her fellow representatives have "a real aversion to capitalism” and that following FDR and LBJ, Barack Obama represents “really the final leap to socialism.” Trust us, we could go on. ( Here and here and here for instance.)

But my question is, does anyone in Republican Party—or the district in Minnesota that apparently elected her—know that this person sounds batshit crazy? I see that her party’s leadership recently picked Bachmann—a global-warming denier—to be part of a the GOP’s Energy Solutions Group. (Sample quote: "The big thing we are working on now is the global-warming hoax. It’s all voodoo, nonsense, hokum, a hoax.")

Seriously, folks. I sort of get why most conservatives say the things they do. I know why Dick Cheney and Karl Rove want to blame Barack Obama for the consequences of their mistakes. It gets them off the hook. And I get why Rush Limbaugh and Michelle Malkin want to blame swine flu on undocumented aliens; it’s because there are racist demagogues and alas, there are ratings to be earned and money to be made there. I even sort of understand why Michael Steele says he wants to give his party a “ hip-hop makeover" because, really, what else he is going to say? But why do voters in the sixth district of Minnesota want to be represented by a madwoman?

I mean, politics ought to be entertaining, I agree. That’s why we sent you Al Franken. Now send him to the Senate already and cut this ridiculous crap. We got the joke…

Eric Alterman is a professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and a professor of journalism at CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. He is the author, most recently, of Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Important Ideals.