Politics & Policy

Mudslinging at the Bachmanns

Not America now, dear — I have a headache.

Michele Bachmann gives me a headache.

But it’s not the Minnesota congresswoman herself who is to blame for the pain. It’s so many of the stories about her and her husband.

See or hear her name these days and you will probably be in for some head-pounding disappointment from the story that follows. But if it was about the former governor of Minnesota worming his way out of a comment that was beneath him, at least that was an improvement over the week before and the outrageous you’re-so-gay dance led by MSNBC. (If only it were The Last Word.)

That’s right. We’re still months away from the first caucuses and primaries of the presidential nominating season, and already things have gotten way out of control. Accusations that Bachmann is heavily medicated on account of incapacitating headaches were just the latest attempts to nip her candidacy in the bud.

The attack started with a story quoting a former aide, who insisted: “The migraines are so bad and so intense, she carries and takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine, to keep them under control. She has to take these pills wherever she goes.”

So — after at least one other candidate openly legitimized the issue — the candidate released a doctor’s note. The attending physician of the U.S. Congress wrote that Bachmann gets migraines but has “normal” brain scans. “It has not been necessary for [her] to take daily scheduled medications to manage this condition,” he continued.

At least the alleged pain-and-pill problem was an improvement over the previous accusation: that Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, must be a closeted gay man. Marcus Bachmann runs a counseling clinic that appears to reject the just-about-any-desire-is-good-and-right-to-pursue mindset. The evidence of his gayness was that his clinic supposedly helps people with homosexual desires to resist acting on them. “Pray the gay away,” was how media outlets put it. Marcus Bachmann’s denial that his clinic does this kind of reparative therapy inspired little but yawns from some who were already too far along in their story line. Instead they chorused: He must be gay. Haven’t you heard the way he talks?Haven’t you seen the way he dances?

He “appears to be a lying closet case,” sex columnist Dan Savage wrote.

And it was far from only Savage, who made a name for himself in 2008 by derailing any Google search for then Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, now a rival of Bachmann’s for the 2012 nomination. It has been open season on Representative Bachmann’s spouse. Daily Show host Jon Stewart explained that Bachmann “dances and sounds not only gay, but center-square gay.” He counsels men to go straight, Stewart joked, “so he can hoard all the gayness for himself.” 

Slate writer William Saletan commented: “There’s nothing new about calling somebody gay based on a lisp or a girlish gait. We all saw, did, or suffered it in grade school. What’s unusual is seeing grown-up gays and liberals do it in 2011 with such open ridicule.” And when covering campaigns, they even come armed with studies on “gaydar.” Savage seeks to justify the outing, insisting that it is what the people want: “He appears to be a lying closet case, a lying closet case who’s made convincing other gay people to join him in the closet his life’s work. And straight people don’t like being lied to. Not any more.”

It’s a curious thing that at a time when tolerance is supposedly all the rage, a man who chooses not to act on particular urges would be intolerable. How strange, how perverse: to embrace a standard and seek to live by it.

But even this insinuation game — the subject of entire segments of supposed political news shows — would be welcome compared to the dreams of violent sex with Mrs. Bachmann that former Air America comedian Marc Maron bragged about on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Also on the panel, Savage said he would like to do the same to Rick Santorum. Said Maron: “I don’t want to be crass, but I just hope that Marcus Bachmann takes all that, you know, rage that comes from repression and denial and brings it into the bedroom with her. I hope he f**ks her angrily because, because that’s how I would. And I’ve thought about it.”

You can see how hard he tried to repress the crassness.

In a Tweet, Saletan hit at the heart of the ridiculousness of so much of this kind of playground politics: “Fake problem: What Michele Bachmann would do as president when she has a headache. Real problem: What she’d do as president when she doesn’t.”

Those who want to take Bachmann out as a candidate by throwing all these things at the campaign wall might want to consider what out-of-control, below-the-belt frenzied attacks have done to make a phenomenon of Sarah Palin, now the subject of a major documentary that might just be in your local theater.

That which doesn’t kill a candidate may make her stronger, however deep in mud she finds herself.

Beyond the repulsive nature of such whisper campaigns presented as legitimate news stories and campaign issues, rival candidates hoping to benefit from a heated swamp of low-brow politics ought take a cold shower. The job they’re asking for demands it — despite its current occupant, known for his patronizing slights of critics. Defaulting to China. A war or two. Serious threats. We have actual issues to debate.

This is your democracy. Pass the Advil. And insist on something more. We haven’t got time for the pain.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.


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