On the occasion earlier this week of Michele Bachmann’s announced retirement from Congress, it would be easy to dismiss her legacy with jaundiced laughter. It’s fun to point to her mistaken belief that the founders of the Constitution “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States;” her confusion of New Hampshire with Massachusetts as the state in which Lexington and Concord are located; and her mix up of John Wayne Gacy, the convicted serial murder, with John Wayne, the actor.
Throw in a reference to the flamboyance of Bachmann’s husband, Marcus – known for selecting her coordinated outfits and practicing gay reparative therapy on his patients, seemingly drawn from personal experience – and you’ve got a knee-slapper.
But the ideas behind Bachmann’s Tea Party movement, which seem sure to survive her departure, are anything but amusing. While pretending to support the Constitution of the United States, the animating feature of the Tea Party is to repeal its central tenents and overthrow the federal government created by it.
In her very first press conference after forming the Tea Party Caucus in the House and becoming its chairperson, Bachmann embraced the strange dialectic of populism, referring to herself not as the leader of the movement in Washington, D.C., but as a “listening post” and “receptacle” for the voice of the people. I suppose this is what Marx referred to as the vanguard of the proletariat, except with a reactionary twist.
The Tea Party attracts followers with not-so-subtle nativist references to the “Others” (Obama, minorities, elites) and promises to take back “our country” from “them.” The naked appeal is to white middle class folks who feel their place in the hierarchy threatened – from above and below. Times are a-changin, and they’re not going quietly.
The irony, however, it that the beneficiaries of dismantling the government, deregulating the economy and expanding tax breaks are not the middle or even upper middle class, but the new gilded class. The super-rich industrialists. The David Kochs, who want to freely pollute the environment, monopolize industry and amalgamate wealth at the top.
They use politicians like Michele Bachmann to sell their self-serving programs. And she dutifully whips up the shock troops with accusations that our federal institutions are full of anti-Americans, communists and members of the Muslim Brotherhood; misinformation that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation; and the outright falsehoods Planned Parenthood is the LensCrafters of “big abortion” or that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a harmless, natural gas.
And that’s not very funny.