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Brooks: Bachmann’s Turned Up Overdrive

By DAVID BROOKS
Brooks: Bachmann’s Turned Up Overdrive

Michele (her Christian name has only one “l,” as though more emphatically to distinguish it from the First Lady’s) Bachmann is a Republican who has represented Minnesota’s Sixth Congressional District since 2007.  During her tenure in the House she has taken a number of stands that some have criticized for their counterfactual bases.  But when you sit down with her for a disarmingly frank interview, you come away with the feeling that this is a woman who knows her own mind even as she gives a piece of it to others.

“Global warming is a hoax,” she asserts, her Midwestern twang buffered by the winning smile and hip-mom hair.  “First, because every point in the atmosphere is right next to the point beside it, where the temperature is exactly the same.  And that extends from point to point, in every direction.  That’s why every place on earth always has exactly the same weather as every other place.  So there is no quote-unquote ‘warming.’”

Then, to buttress her argument, she executes a rhetorical move that has served her well, both in Minnesota and across the nation, before audiences of the Tea Party faithful.  She shifts from the scientific to the housewifely and personal.  “Besides, carbon dioxide is what makes Coke fizzy.  If it causes warming, wouldn’t all our stomachs have melted by now?”  She laughs.  “Sometimes I wish melting my stomach were that easy!”

I’ve interviewed dozens of political leaders.  Most of them feel some obligation, whether out of sincere belief or simple professionalism, to pay lip service to objective reality.  It’s what sociologists call the “bias toward consensus.”  I’ll validate your world if you validate mine.  And, for most people, it serves a real purpose.  It makes meaningful discourse possible, and provides a basis for mutually-comprehended cultural norms and relationships.

Bachmann sees things differently.  She is perhaps the most visible of the societal type known as the New Solipsists, or Newso’s.  You can tell Newso’s by their various characteristic behaviors and patterns of consumption.  

If Newso’s feel like going to Circuit City to buy DuMont televisions and watch the latest broadcasts of Lost and The Shield, they do. They fly business class on Pan American to New York City, where they stay at the Biltmore and eat at La Caravelle.  Every two years they trade in their car for another top-of-the-line Oldsmobile.

“I’m concerned because Obama is the first Communist Martian we’ve ever had a heartbeat away from the White Office,” she says, unprompted.  “If you look at the Founding Fathers, none of them were Martians, except maybe Benjamin Franklin.  But he wasn’t married, so he couldn’t be a father.  Centipedes from South America will destroy us all until Jesus Christ returns.”  

Bachmann, being a Newso, is a new kind of politician.  Conventional political figures try to stay on-script.  Compared to their actor-like plodding, Bachmann performs like an improv comedian—fast, nimble, unpredictable.  For her and her followers, it works.

“Liberal women want to use abortion as a form of birth control, and as a way to meet single gynecologists.  Well, I wasn’t raised that way.  If the government is going to fund my health care, I want to know: who’s paying for me to get sick in the first place?  The scales don’t balance, and this is what we have in our nation today.  Is gabardine a cloth, or a town in Scotland?  I forget.”

Discoveries in neuro-psychology and philosophical investigations into consciousness have yielded the counter-intuitive idea that the single, integrated, persisting self is a myth.  We are not discrete, individual captains of a vessel consisting of our bodies and our minds.  Rather, we are a plethora of selves, all competing for dominance of the personality at any given moment.  

The more this notion trickles down from the airy heights of scientific theory to the rock-solid stratum of everyday assumption, the more the New Solipsists will thrive.  The classic Capitalist paradigm—I beat you up; he beats me up; we all get paid and go home—will give way to a sort of intra-psychic multiverse, in which I consist of different selves beating each other up as they assist me in interacting with—and, ideally, beating up--other equally multifarious persons.

Michele Bachmann gets this, perhaps more than any other contemporary public figure (including her friend and amicable rival, Sarah Palin).

“If evolution is so important,” she ponders, “why didn’t gorillas think of it first?”

 

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