Sunday, August 14, 2011

Sunday Reading

Religious Zeal — Ryan Lizza’s profile of Michele Bachmann looks at the roots of the candidate who won Iowa’s straw poll.

Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians. Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared. Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is “personal enslavement,” and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, “little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.” Speaking about gay-rights activists, that same year, she said, “It is our children that is the prize for this community.” She believes that evolution is a theory that has “never been proven,” and that intelligent design should be taught in schools.

Bachmann’s assertions on these issues are, unsurprisingly, disputed. She is also often criticized for making factual errors on less controversial matters. As commentators quickly pointed out, the President during the first swine-flu outbreak was a Republican, Gerald Ford.


The second risk to Bachmann’s campaign is one that’s harder to control. Part of what’s so appealing about her is that she speaks passionately and off the cuff. But she often seems to speak before she thinks, garbles words, mixes up history, or says things that don’t make sense. At some point, when more people are paying attention, she might go just a bit too far.

On the campaign trip, as we got ready to leave Iowa after her Waterloo speech, Bachmann leaned over to look at pictures from the event on an aide’s laptop.

“I like that one,” she said, pointing.

“Yes, I love that. It tells our story.”

“This is the over-the-shoulder shot.”

“It’s so pretty with the green grass and trees in the distance. Oh, and the flags! Go back to the flags. I like that, I like that!”

“Looking good!” the aide said.

The engine started to rev as we taxied. Bachmann stood up straight and punched the air. “Shoot, aim, score!”

There’s much more, including Ms. Bachmann’s history of manipulating her past, her work history, her experience as a tax attorney, her role in trying to set up a religious charter school, and her reading list of radical Christian literature mixed with John Birch Society screeds and the apologia by J. Steven Wilkins that Africans were “lucky” to be sold into slavery in the South.

More below the fold.

Aw, Shucks — Daniel Shoer Roth at the Miami Herald sees that Rick Scott is trying for an image make-over.

Now that his popularity has plummeted for countless reasons, Scott has suddenly changed his persona. He is no longer indifferent and arrogant, as he was until recently. In fact, he is willing to visit the very state newspapers he refused to meet with during his campaign.

As part of his pilgrimage to gain support, he visited the Miami Herald newsroom and met with its Editorial Board on Wednesday. He didn’t wear a tie and was not surrounded by a squad of bodyguards. His cobalt blue shirt showed Florida’s emblem and his name, of course.

“I believe that what we are doing in the state is good for Floridians,” he said, bragging about his achievements.

Excuse me? What is it exactly that is good for Floridians? The cuts in unemployment benefits and the new hurdles to apply? The increase in insurance premiums? Turning down federal funds for a bullet train that would have created hundreds of jobs? Is it good to limit Medicaid services to the disabled? Wound public education?

In his short time in Tallahassee, our multimillionaire Republican governor has crafted a scheme of disasters that have earned him nearly a dozen lawsuits for his state retirement plan, the rejection of the bullet train, and for dramatically modifying election laws, among others.

On Thursday, a Boca Raton-based volunteer group called Citizens for National Security announced plans to sue Scott and the Florida Department of Education to toss out a new law that reduces from 10 to two the number of delegates on a committee that reviews and recommends state education materials. The group argues that the law contributes to promote Scott’s agenda.

What is the opinion of the colorful Scott? What does he think of the severe criticism aimed at him for his right-wing hard line?

“I don’t know,” he says going on a tangent. “I never think about it in this job.”


At the end of the meeting, Scott walked around the newsroom proffering a friendly hand to the staff, a strangely cordial gesture never before seen from him. It was as though he was suddenly interested in gaining the sympathy of journalists.

“He is not as evil as he seemed,” said a young intern.

With this new mask, he is just an angel from God.

Remembering the Wall — This weekend marks the fiftieth anniversary of the construction of the Berlin Wall. The Atlantic goes back to 1961 to recount stories of people who crossed over.

Hans R. is a cabinetmaker, thirty-seven years old. He was a corporal in the Wehrmacht and fought in the winter campaign in Russia. He is married, and he and his wife have a ten-year-old son. He wears his thick blond hair short and straight back. His eyes are calm and steady, and he has the blunt, quiet hands of a craftsman. Hans R. was born in the East German city from which he fled, and he lived there all his life except for his army service.

All of my life I have worked with my hands. So has my entire family. We have taken pride in our trade; we have looked on our trade as an honorable thing. My father taught us this when I and my brothers were very young. I have tried to teach the same principles to my son, not because work is honorable any longer in East Germany, but because I think that work cannot be dishonored forever. Someday it will again be a manly thing to work like an honest man, even in East Germany. I do not think that men can live without a feeling of respect for themselves and their work.

This is my opinion. Nothing will change it. I have left my home, which I love very much, because I could not even pretend that my opinion had changed. Had I been able to pretend, to behave as if I had buried my self-respect and my pride in my work, I would have stayed and I would have won privileges. But I could not do this. People told me over and over it would be smart to do it, but I always thought to myself: If I do start to pretend, what happens to me inside? After a while you begin to believe the pretense. Then you are finished.

Doonesbury — College daze.