Michele Bachmann's Love Affair with Revisionist History

She has a revisionist view of history--endorsing books arguing that maybe slavery wasn't so bad

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The press finds photographs of Michele Bachmann looking like she has crazy eyes irresistible. On the cover of Newsweek this week, she looks like a disturbed woman in pearls staring into the hazy middle distance. But Bachmann's media savvy and strong debate performance show she's not nuts--and the plurality of Iowa Republicans agree, making her the current top choice for the 2012 nomination. On the other hand, a dive into the ideas that shaped Bachmann's politics show her view is unusual, even alien to most Americans. Bachmann is often described as radical--but it's not her fiscal policy that's outside the mainstream--it's the beliefs behind it that are.

Newsweek's Lois Romano explains Bachmann's appeal as based on her ability to combine social conservatism with Tea Party budget cutting--and to sound tough while she's talking about it. "I do not twist in the wind," the Minnesota congresswoman says. One lifelong Democrat came to see her speak because, after losing his job, he's "tired of paying for everyone else." Romano writes, "Bachmann revels in the Iowa crowds, which don't fuss about the missing fine print behind her ideas, the perceived contradictions among them, or their radicalism."

What radicalism does Romano mean? After all, Republicans in the House of Representatives advocated the same things Bachmann does during the debt ceiling debate--and they wouldn't raise the debt limit without getting a vote on an amendment to the Constitution that would force a balanced budget. It's hard to call a policy position radical if half of Congress signs on to it. The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza explains some of the more unusual things Bachmann believes. The congresswoman comes across as fun and funny, if extremely careful about managing her appearance. But she also believes in stuff most Americans do not believe.

Here's a sampling of Michele Bachmann's reading list. She has publicly endorsed all of these books at some point:

She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians. There may "be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right... Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false--for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view."
  • Christianity and the Constitution, by John Eidsmoe, for whom Bachmann was a research assistant. This is why Bachmann frequently insists that the Founding Fathers opposed slavery, despite owning slaves. Eidsmoe, Lizza says, holds that John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams "expressed their abhorrence for the institution" of slavery, and "many Christians opposed slavery even though they owned slaves." Why? The slaves couldn't make it out there in the free world: "It might be very difficult for a freed slave to make a living in that economy; under such circumstances setting slaves free was both inhumane and irresponsible."
  • Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee, by J. Steven Wilkins. Wilkins, Lizza explains, "is the leading proponent of the theory that the South was an orthodox Christian nation unjustly attacked by the godless North." He also argues that slavery wasn't so bad. Sample quote:
Slavery, as it operated in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South, was not an adversarial relationship founded upon racial animosity. In fact, it bred on the whole, not contempt, but, over time, mutual respect. This produced a mutual esteem of the sort that always results when men give themselves to a common cause. The credit for this startling reality must go to the Christian faith. . . . The unity and companionship that existed between the races in the South prior to the war was the fruit of a common faith.
Bachmann's revisionist history extends to her own family, Lizza explains, after her inspirational speech about her family's century-plus-old roots in Iowa turns out to be somewhat inaccurate. But while Bachmann feels free to fudge a bit on historical facts, she's fixated on her own narrative as portrayed in the press. Bachmann was unusually open about reading her own press in front of Lizza. Reporters were not allowed to photograph her in casual clothes. When the Drudge Report ran a headline about Bachmann confusing John Wayne with John Wayne Gacy, she felt she was the victim of a double standard.

Why would Drudge, an ardent conservative, publicize that gaffe? [Her speech coach] thought he knew the answer. "Matt Rhoades and Drudge are best friends," he said, speaking of Mitt Romney's campaign manager. Bachmann concurred. "You never see anything about Romney on Drudge--ever," she said.

Another time, a flattering article in The New York Times is explained by Bachmann: "Maybe it's because he was so mean last time and he feels like he needs to do better."
Bachmann's husband Marcus is open about following what reporters are writing about him.
Marcus Bachmann plopped down on the seat next to me, in the back of the plane. He pointed at my laptop and asked if he could take a look. "All I want to know is what they’re saying about me," he said. "Newsweek came up with the word 'silver fox.' Tell me what ‘silver fox’ means."
"Do you want me to tell you honestly?" I asked.
"Oh, don’t tell me it’s something gay!" he said. "Because I’ve been called that before." Marcus is a psychologist who runs a clinic that employs people Michele described in 2006 as "Biblical world-view counsellors," who "reach out and try to bring the medicine of the Gospel to come and heal people."
I explained that "silver fox" probably had more to do with the color of his hair.
"O.K., I can handle that," he said. Tera, the assistant, assured him that it was a positive term.
"It’s better than Porky Pig," Marcus said, with a laugh.
And it's clear Bachmann knows how much her physical image matters in the primary race:
On the campaign trip, as we got ready to leave Iowa after her Waterloo speech, Bachmann leaned over to look at pictures from the event on an aide’s laptop.
"I like that one," she said, pointing.
"Yes, I love that. It tells our story."
"This is the over-the-shoulder shot."
"It’s so pretty with the green grass and trees in the distance. Oh, and the flags! Go back to the flags. I like that, I like that!"
"Looking good!" the aide said.
The engine started to rev as we taxied. Bachmann stood up straight and punched the air. "Shoot, aim, score!"
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.