Last week, The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg authored what one might have reasonably expected would be the most vicious takedown of GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann we would likely see before the primaries began. From the mainstream press, at least. Opening with the increasingly infamous tale of Bachmann screaming in a bathroom that she was being held against her will by lesbians—and weaving into that story the time Bachmann hid in the bushes at a gay rights rally—Goldberg declared, “Lots of politicians talk about a sinister homosexual agenda. Bachmann, who has made opposition to gay rights a cornerstone of her career, seems genuinely to believe in one.” It got worse for Bachmann from there. Bachmann, as Goldberg’s headline told it, was possessed with an “unrivaled extremism.”
But Goldberg’s piece reads like a bit of Vogue puffery next to a new piece by Matt Taibbi, whose own “Bachmann’s a lunatic” look at the Minnesota Congresswoman’s life and policies for Rolling Stone was published online yesterday morning. (Titled “Michele Bachmann’s Holy War,” it will appear in the July 7 print edition of the magazine.) Drawing from popular culture, Taibbi describes Bachmann’s decision to run for president as seeming like the opening conceit to the TV series Far Out Space Nuts—“in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing ‘launch’ instead of ‘lunch’”—and describes Bachmann herself as a Terminator figure. “She’s trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo,” he writes. Later, he describes her greatest asset among the GOP field as “the gigantic set of burnished titanium Terminator-testicles swinging under her skirt.”
It is great, over-the-top writing, a little too into itself to rush to the point in the first few paragraphs, but bold, colorful, and brutal enough that you’ll happily take the slower ride.
What is Taibbi’s point? Something similar to Goldberg’s. That this Aladdin-banning, fundamentalist, deluded Joan of Arc figure, is “crazy”—“Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy ”—and that there may be enough crazies like her out there for her to have an impact on the presidential race.
There is some interesting reporting on Bachmann’s formative years that leads to that conclusion, relayed to us with trademark Taibbi acid. Here he is on her time in the inaugural 1979 class of O.W. Coburn School of Law.
Originally a division of Oral Roberts University, this august academy, dedicated to the teaching of “the law from a biblical worldview,” has gone through no fewer than three names—including the Christian Broadcasting Network School of Law. Those familiar with the darker chapters in George W. Bush’s presidency might recognize the school’s current name, the Regent University School of Law. Yes, this was the tiny educational outhouse that, despite being the 136th-ranked law school in the country, where 60 percent of graduates flunked the bar, produced a flood of entrants into the Bush Justice Department.
Regent was unabashed in its desire that its graduates enter government and become “change agents” who would help bring the law more in line with “eternal principles of justice,” i.e., biblical morality. To that end, Bachmann was mentored by a crackpot Christian extremist professor named John Eidsmoe, a frequent contributor to John Birch Society publications who once opined that he could imagine Jesus carrying an M16 and who spent considerable space in one of his books musing about the feasibility of criminalizing blasphemy.
This background is significant considering Bachmann’s leadership role in the Tea Party, a movement ostensibly founded on ideas of limited government.
And, while a number of Taibbi’s colorful darts at Bachmann’s position on gay marriage, and gay lifestyle, are pretty wonderful, this straighter section probably best sums up her crazed, overzealous approach to that political issue.
In 2003, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued its famous ruling permitting gay marriage, Bachmann proposed an amendment to the Minnesota constitution banning gay marriage—despite the fact that the state legislature had already passed a law making same-sex unions illegal. Even the politicians who were sufficiently gay-phobic to have passed the original anti-¬marriage law were floored by the brazen pointlessness of Bachmann’s bill. “It’s unnecessary, it’s redundant, it’s duplicative,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest.
Taibbi even manages to get someone from the Tea Party movement—admittedly, a person in no way representative of the whole of this large and disparate group—to throw a bad word Bachmann’s way.
“Michele Bachmann is—what’s the old-school term?—a poser,” says Chris Littleton, an Ohio Tea Party leader troubled by her support of the Patriot Act and other big-government interventions. “Look at her record and see how ‘Tea Party’ she really is.”
You wouldn’t find this kind of profile in The New York Times—or even on The Daily Beast—but it’s definitely worth your time. Take a moment today to feel Taibbi’s fear and enjoy his excess.
Update: It turns out that while it is an undoubtedly entertaining read, there are suggestions that Taibbi’s reporting on this piece was less impressive than it first appears to be. In The Awl, Abe Sauer attacks Taibbi’s piece on a number of points—particularly for what’s said to be an unfair characterization of the town of Stillwater—but the most worrying might be the degree to which Taibbi appears to have lifted quotes from a 2006 City Pages profile of Bachmann called “The Chosen One.” And without attribution. You can read The Awl piece to see examples of where Taibbi re-reported the quotes. When questioned, Rolling Stone executive editor Eric Bates reportedly told Sauer that two of Taibbi’s notes attributing the quotes to City Pages were removed to save space. This is a curious defense. As I noted above, I enjoyed the piece for its style, and its excess, but some of that might have been trimmed to include the appropriate citations. While we’re on the topic of attribution, I came to The Awl post by way of Jim Romenesko at Poynter, who has Twin City’s Bachmann profile writer G.R. Anderson’s thoughts on the matter.
Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.
Tags: 2012, GOP primary, Matt Taibbi, Michele Bachmann, Rolling Stone