Michele Bachmann Blames Her Republicanism on Gore Vidal, But Gets It All Wrong
This diary is indebted the Talking Points Memo story Bachmann: 'Snotty' Gore Vidal Novel Turned Me Republican!. I'm cannibalizing their coverage with abandon. (But even though they got there first, I have the better story title.)
Here's the gist: Michele Bachmann told CPAC today that she used to be a Democrat, even worked for Jimmy Carter and attended his inauguration. Then, while a college junior, she was reading Gore Vidal's Burr, a revisionist history of our Founding Fathers told from the perspective of the least celebrated one, our third Vice-President. She thought it snotty, and realized that if Gore Vidal was a Democrat, she must be a Republican -- and she's stayed one ever since.
This is a good time for three initial points:
(1) Gore Vidal is not a Democrat
(2) Anyone who'd change their political party so capriciously is an idiot
(3) As a tribute, you should add Burr to your reading list. It's a great novel!
The third point is actually the most important. I'm truly thankful to Bachmann for bringing the 1973 novel Burr back to public consciousness, because it's something to revel in reading and to argue about endlessly. Fun and good for you!
Updates: (1) Some edits for typos etc. have been made and will not be acknowledged. (2) bluesteel suggests you read this entertaining story about the Minnesota Goofer. (3) some people seem perhaps unfamiliar with the colorful American expression "burr up his/her/the ass" (which I ratcheted down a notch for the title because I was "please thinking of the children"). It refers to something being irritating and motivating. It does not refer to any real body part of La Bachmann's, nor to a real Republican Senator. so please get your mind out of the grifter. (4) Fun comment section you made, for which I thank you.
I want to start by cannibalizing some fine comments from TPM. Here's one by "TapirBoy," who I'm guessing is a relative of our "blue aardvark":
Burr is a great novel, and Bachmann's inability to cope with the fact that the "Founding Fathers" were very fallible human beings shows a lot about the broader Republican mindset. It also reminds me of something poignant another Minnesotan, now-Senator Al Franken, once wrote about the differences between a liberal's love of country and a conservative's love of country.
As Franken noted, liberals love America like adults love their parents, while conservatives love America like a four year-old loves his parents. Liberals love America, but can emotionally and intellectually recognize that America sometimes takes an errant path and try to get back on course. This is the same way an adult child loves a parent. Conservatives, on the other hand, think everything America does is right, just as a young child thinks everything Mommy does is right even if Mommy is acting unwisely. And a four year-old will punch you in the nose if you ever say anything bad about Mommy.
Oh, YES, yes, YES! Thank you, Sen. Al Franken, for the definitive stompification of your state-mate and those like her.
(By the way, Josh Marshall doesn't let people link to individual comments, maybe because that's a blog thing.)
Then there's this review plucked off of Amazon by our own mimikatz:
"As for the historical accuracy, Vidal points out in an afterword that with a couple of very minor anachronisms (which he details), every character in the book acts as he or she did in real life - their speech and writings are borrowed from actual correspondence, and the historical events depicted are painstakingly researched (Vidal took 10 years to write the book). Even narrator Charlie Schuyler's girlfriend, the prostitute Helen Jewitt, is based upon a real life character. So while some graduate students might object to a phrase or two, and perhaps some Jeffersonians will object to the two-faced opportunist Jefferson portrayed here, for most of us with a casual interest in history the book educates as it entertains."
That's what I've heard too. I don't know whether it's true, but the book had some ring of truth to me, despite being told by someone with a clear viewpoint. Any Vidal or Burr scholars out there who can weigh in?
This elicited a lovely reply by al2o3cr:
There's a deeper point here: most conservatives are, like Ms. Bachmann, deeply offended by REAL history. They prefer the sanitized, good vs. evil, might always makes right version that they've created for themselves.
Other comments note that Bachmann's story sounds phony, both because this doesn't seem like the basis for a political conversion and that it strains credulity that Bachmann both could and would read a 450-page novel by a serious author. But enough about that, let me sell you on the novel.
Its main characters, aside from Burr, the protagonist (young Charlie Schuyler) and Charlie's woman friend, include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and of course Alexander Hamilton, whom Burr famously killed in a duel. (The prose there is spare and powerful.) (Update: and, now that I recall, it also features James and Dolly Madison, Burr protégé Martin Van Buren, etc. -- all vivid and interesting, though not fawning, portraits that lead you to re-examine what you think you know about the Founders.) I think the treatment of Washington, as sort of an early model Gerald Ford, is a bit unfair: maybe he didn't win a battle, but he won a war of attrition (even if he got very lucky.) Jefferson comes off as smooth and treacherous and plausibly so -- a real political animal; as someone noted, Vidal states after the story that his own estimation of Jefferson is higher than Burr's, so we have an "unreliable narrator" problem, to adopt another term that Bachmann won't understand or appreciate or acknowledge is logically possible.) Hamilton is portrayed as a less smooth and able a politician, reminding me in some ways of Larry Summers, but also -- if dim memory serves -- more sympathetically than you might expect, especially over continually getting his ass handed to him by Jefferson.
Now it may be wrong to base one's reading list based on what flaming loonies say that you must not read because it's anti-patriotic -- although it's usually a fair guideline -- but I just want to tell you that in this case it's OK. Michelle Bachmann is a perfect cultural compass -- and when she points south, you know you can safely stride ahead, secure that you are walking northward.