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Monday, April 04, 2011

Gore Vidal Versus Michelle Bachmann

All men are created equal, but all thoughts are not equal. The ubiquity of social media and the 24/7 news cycle has made it so that any provocative idiot -- Chris Brown comes to mind -- can say or do something really, really stupid, calling into question their own sanity, and get people like me to write about it. In the process -- as everyone is talking about them -- the distinction is lost as to if what they said had any merit in the first place. There is no longer any difference between fame and notoriety. It is not so much that you said something true or profound, but to how many Followers did you say it. In that sense, Charlie Sheen, who has 3.4 million "Followers" -- including the intellectually intense Miley Cyrus -- really is winning.

Glenn Beck has made it somewhat fashionable for people who don't know what the fuck they are talking about to act like they do if to do it with a certain amount of confidence. If you believe it hard enough, it must be true. Emotionally true, at least, if not intellectually true. And fuck intellect, besides -- emotions expressed with force are more powerful! Glenn Beck crying is more compelling than President Obama detailing the reasons for a humanitarian intervention in Libya. That's too fucking complicated, bro! Cut that shit down to 140 Characters and throw in some emoticons.

Recently, pastor Terry Jones, who knows nothing about the war, peace or even religion held a Quran burning -- against the urgings of everyone from President Obama to Secretary Clinton to General Petraeus -- which resulted in the murder of at least 22 people. Zero intellect, zero wisdom but a fucking champion heart. A real coeur de lion, that Terry. Tell that to the families of the dead 22.

Enter: Michelle Bachman, whose tragi-comic misrerading of Gore Vidal's Burr apparently turned her into a conservative. From the NyTimes:

"Sarah Palin, the reigning heroine of many social conservatives, has given few signals that she will make a presidential bid. Mike Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucuses in 2008 on the strength of his appeal to evangelicals and other constituencies, has mostly offered reasons for not joining the race. So into that space has come Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. Best known as a fiery presence on cable television and the founder of the House Tea Party caucus, she is now exploring whether to seek the Republican presidential nomination. And early reaction to her in Iowa, where she was born and raised, suggests not only that she might do it, but also that she could have a substantial impact on the race ... Ms. Bachmann, who moved to Minnesota as a teenager, eagerly recounted how her Norwegian ancestors settled near Waterloo, Iowa. And she confides that she was raised a Democrat — she and her husband, Marcus, worked for Jimmy Carter’s 1976 campaign — but she had an awakening reading a Gore Vidal book that she found to be 'mocking our founding fathers.'"  

That book is Burr, my favorite of Vidal's historical novels.

Commentary, shamefully, dumbs itself down to defend Bachmann's appaling reading comprehension. Jonathan Tobin writes, unconvincingly: "Bachmann’s personal narrative—in which she was transformed into a conservative by the liberal glorification of a low politician who deserves his villain status in American history—makes not only for good politics, but may reveal a finer mind for literature than the leftist wags who have put her down as yet another conservative dunce."

Excuse me, but Gore Vidal's Burr is not a "liberal glorification of a low politician who deserves his villain status in American history," but rather a levelling of all the Founding Fathers in one fell swoop. And not so much to destroy them, but to puit them into historical perspective -- not as Gods, but ambitious, well-read  lawyers who were blocked in advancement by the British. Vidal gives them their due for creating an enduring nation -- an incredible achievement -- but he, unlike Copley, never neglects to include the warts and welts in his exquisite portraits of the era. The Fouding Fathers were not purely idealistic beings, else they would have evaporated into the ethers before defeating the British.

Vidal's Jefferson was as much a Machiavellian as was Vidal's Burr -- Burr is just more honest about it. History, particularly Conor Cruise O'Brien's account, has left us with a more human-all-too-human Jefferson. I suspect Vidal's Burr and O'Brien's jefferson are closer to the mark than many -- if not most -- of those glowing historical blowjobs on the Founding Fathers.

Vidal offered this written statement in response to Bachmann's creation myth: "She is too stupid to deserve an answer."

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