Video of the day: worm on a hook edition

>> Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I'm not a big Chris Matthews fan--matter of fact, he's kind of douchey--but he has his moments. And this is one of them (worth the whole nine minutes):

I agree that this is worse than what Palin does. I don't know if Bachmann is motivated by ignorance or malice or some toxic blend of the two, but this is the kind of bullshit historic revisionism you usually hear from white power types and Confederacy apologists who are trying to marginalize contemporary civil rights issues by rewriting American history to say that slavery was a brief aberration and not the great sin of the Founders that culminated in the bloodiest war in American history. No, I'm not accusing Bachmann of being a racist--I have no idea. The problem is that she's parroting an argument used by a segment of American racists. What motivates her? I've no idea. Hanlon's Razor tells us not to ascribe malice where stupidity is a sufficient explanation, but is that an excuse for anything?

Sal Russo squirms and tries to change the subject, repeatedly, and tries unsuccessfully to go on the offensive by accusing Matthews of doing what Russo's trying to do. Matthews says Russo's smarter than that--he's certainly smart enough to cringe and dodge, that's for sure--but wouldn't a truly smart person cut Bachmann loose before she drags him down with her, which is what's happening in this clip, basically?

At some point, the jaw drops, words fail to express, there's little else to be said. I didn't get a chance to see Bachmann's actual surrebuttal or whatever you'd like to call it (properly speaking, a surrebuttal to the Republicans' response to the President's State Of The Union Address--which I thought was pretty good, by the way--would be a Democratic rebuttal to the rebuttal; I guess the teabaggers' insistence on a separate response after the proper response is supposed to show they're on nobody's side, or something), so I don't know how that went. There's talk that Bachmann might run for the Republican Presidential nomination in 2012, so one supposes that her statements on law and history and race might deserve slightly more scrutiny than the ramblings of a bag lady parking her grocery cart beneath a highway overpass. But what do you make of statements that are so far and fundamentally wrong that they can't really even be responded to? And, unfortunately, it's not like we're talking about a slip of the tongue: had Bachmann said the American Civil War began in 1961, or that Apollo 13 made the first moon landing, or that Andrew Johnson fought at the Battle Of New Orleans, it might be worth a short chuckle but certainly not worth an onslaught--such statements would obviously be slips of the tongue, especially if they were caught and not repeated.1 But Bachmann goes on and on and on about how everybody came to America and did just fine and it didn't matter where you were from and the Founding Fathers worked tirelessly to end slavery, ad nauseum.

It's bloody amazing. And people lap up Bachmann's nonsense like milk, do they? That's a little terrifying, actually.

UPDATE, 2011-01-26, 10:36 AM EST:So I just found time to watch Bachmann's speech on CNN. The most obvious observation is that I can only hope there was actually another camera for the Tea Party Express feed on the set, located in the direction Rep. Bachmann kept looking and talking at, and that CNN was being dissed by having to locate their camera off to one side. Because otherwise, that was the worst use of a teleprompter I've seen since the last time I watched Saturday Night Live.

As for substance, certainly Phiala's link in the comments, below is worth a look. But the really odd/amusing thing about the substance of Bachmann's rebuttal is the way it seemed to be a response to some other State Of The Union address the President was expected to give, but didn't, directed to an audience that presumably didn't listen to the SOTU but bothered to tune into the Tea Party Express website. (I don't know how many of them actually saw anything: part of the reason I missed Bachmann's performance last night is that I tried to visit the TPE site hosting it, only to discover the teabaggers hadn't provided enough bandwidth and there was a "too many streams" error.) F'r'instance, Bachmann says the President should support medical malpractice reform, which is one of the bones Obama threw to the right during the speech he actually gave. Similarly, he also talked about an energy policy to reduce dependence on foreign oil; doubtless, Bachmann meant the President should support drilling for domestic fossil fuels, but if so, she might have been clear unless all she wanted to do was codetalk to her base (anticipating a comment: yes, I know--that was exactly all she wanted to do).

For that matter, it seems the President neatly anticipated the teabag crowd's love for talk of American exceptionalism, though he happily framed it in terms of government working with industry and in terms of American ingenuity, as opposed to Bachmann's framing it in terms of the Founding Fathers being magical elves and Iwo Jima (which, if you go back to the transcript at CNN's site, has to rank as one of the whiplashiest non sequiturs in recent political memory). Speaking of which, I thought the President's talk about public-private cooperation and American ingenuity was one of the most effective parts of the SOTU address last night. One of the oddest things (not really) in the far-right's worldview is the idea that every great American achievement came out of the private sector, and then they mention things like the Internet, which everybody knows evolved from ARPANET. Along the same lines, the President mentioned the space program quite a bit in the context of America facing a "Sputnik moment," and surely everybody knows the space program is a massive government program that subcontracts component manufacturing to private industry, a fine example of cooperation if you want to call it that.

One could go on, but I'll leave it at that.

Anyway, Michelle Bachmann may be the strangest public official to crawl out of the darkness in my lifetime. Can't say I'd be sad to see her crawl back into the cave or tangle of tree roots she emerged from.

1For instance, in last nights State Of The Union address the President initially said relief workers assisting the trapped Chilean miners last year worked three-and-four hour days before catching himself and correcting himself to say three-and-four days without rest; it was an obvious slip of the tongue and, sadly, not as funny as President Bush's, "putting food on your family" gaffe et al.; point is, such things happen, to some speakers more frequently than others (see also: Joe Biden).


Phiala Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:20:00 AM EST  

My head hurts.

This factcheck article on Bachmann's speech was fascinating.

Konstantin B. Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 12:22:00 PM EST  

Wow. That's just wow. It's scary and I am at loss for words. Wow.

Nathan Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:14:00 PM EST  

I've always been a little put out by the fact that they call these speeches a "response", when they, presumably had to write it before hearing what they're responding to. OTOH, with Bachmann, a direct response after digesting SOTU wouldn't have been any more on point.

Maybe they should call these speeches, the opposition's "LALALA, I can't hear you" address.

Nathan Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:04:00 PM EST  

I've been thinking a little more about her whole "Everybody was equal when they got here and the founding fathers took care of that pesky slavery" thing and based on the assumption that even she's stupid enough to actually believe that crap I'm trying to figure out what her agenda really is.

Is it an (ludicrous/misguided) attempt at deflecting accusations of tea party racism? Some sort of backward way of idolizing the founding fathers and giving them responsibility for ending slavery...ergo, since we love them, we can't be racist?

Is it a backhanded way of saying, "You guys have had a level playing field for 200-and-some-odd years, so you've had plenty of time to get your shit together, so stop asking for shit."

I'm honestly confused as to what she hoped to achieve.

Or maybe she really is that stupid and ignorant?

Nathan Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:05:00 PM EST  

first para should have read "...she's not stupid enough..."

Eric Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:39:00 PM EST  

Nathan, if she has an agenda, I suspect it involves all of the factors you mention. That's how that kind of argument is used by revisionists who have made similar arguments (Bachmann leaves out, at least for now anyway, the related "and slavery wasn't even that bad" family of claims).

One of the things I really can't get a bead on, though, as you mention and as I said to begin with, is whether Bachmann has an agenda, is really that stupid and arrogant, or falls on some point along a line between the two.

Bachmann has a JD from Oral Roberts University and an LL.M. in tax law from William & Mary. William & Mary is a fairly prestigious school; indeed, their law school is currently tied with my own legal alma mater in the U.S. News rankings. Oral Roberts, where Bachmann most likely would have studied Constitutional Law (if she studied Con Law), obviously was a school with a historical axe to grind, and one is skeptical as to the value of her education there. (As an aside that may or may not mean anything, Oral Roberts' Law School was closed, apparently for financial reasons, shortly after Bachmann received her J.D.)

Still, unlike Sarah Palin, there's at least the impression that Bachmann received a meaningful education and that in doing so she jumped through a set of hoops that require some kind of intellect to navigate. Having said that, I'll also say I've encountered some fairly dumb lawyers; still, those people, like Bachmann, did things like outperform peers during an admissions process and passed a State Bar Exam. Maybe it's self-serving to say that this shows something, but I can't wholly dismiss Bachmann's brain the way I might Sarah Palin's.

It should be noted, though, that there are different kinds of intelligence. George W. Bush was smart enough to get an MBA from an Ivy League school and to parlay a series of career failures into two successful presidential campaigns--and not smart enough to string together a coherent sentence or avoid crashing the economy. The point being that Bush isn't, as so many on the left said, dumb, but his intellect included some notable deficiencies and blind spots that made him a lousy leader for the era he found himself in (perhaps in different times, he would have been a modestly competent, mostly harmless placeholder). And Bachmann might be smart enough to become a very good tax attorney and lack the cognitive skills to understand history, strange as that might seem.

But if she is smart enough to know better, then you have to figure malice instead of stupidity. And that possibility is pretty damn messed-up.

I don't know, I just don't know.

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