You may have seen Matt Taibbi's new profile of Michele Bachmann in Rolling Stone; if you're familiar with Taibbi's work, it won't surprise you that it mixes good observation with outrage and some slightly over-the-top assertions. "Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions," he writes. "She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government." But the story is also a plea to take Bachmann seriously as a candidate, as someone who is focused, driven, and possesses formidable campaign skills (I made much the same general case a few weeks ago).
But now The Awl goes after Taibbi for the profile, first for some sloppiness (using quotes from a 2006 City Pages article without attribution, for instance), but also for doing Bachmann's work for her:
The profile is the kind of battle-axing of Bachmann that is going to do great pageviews for the magazine but ultimately play right into her hand. It gives Bachmann legitimate evidence that the fabled leftist mainstream media is attacking her. Consequently, it will make her more popular with a base that looks for which conservative leader is being most reviled in the media, and then assumes that person is their best bet.
And here's where I have to object. It's true that vigorous criticism from left-leaning publications will give Bachmann a kind of succor. But what's the alternative? We should be able to separate the political from the substantive, and give frank assessments of both. Yes, Bachmann is a skilled politician who needs to be taken seriously. It's simultaneously true, however, that her actual views are fracking crazy. We're talking about someone who has proposed McCarthyite investigations of her congressional colleagues to see which ones are "anti-American," who instructed people to break the law by not filling out their census forms, who thinks AmeriCorps creates "re-education camps," who doesn't believe in evolution and thinks global warming is a "hoax," and who thinks the dollar might be replaced with some one-world currency (see more here). Her beliefs are not just radical, they're unhinged, and they're driven by the conviction she's had throughout her career that God chose her to help create a Christian theocracy in America.
So yes, we should take her seriously as a political force. And yes, criticism of her will only reinforce her supporters' belief that she's being singled out for attacks because she's so righteous and noble. But that shouldn't stay anyone's hand from speaking the truth about her.
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