Suzanne Fields / July 22, 2011

Bachmann Inside the Ring at Last

Like it or not, Michele Bachmann is a contender. She triumphed over low expectations in the opening Republican debate. She advanced from flaky to crusty, from outlandish to charismatic, from beyond the fringe to inside the ring.

“She doesn’t seem crazy at all,” observes the piously liberal New Republic magazine, with what passes for praise for a conservative woman.

The Minnesota congresswoman entered the mainstream by swimming smoothly into the lane vacated by Mike Huckabee.

Like it or not, Michele Bachmann is a contender. She triumphed over low expectations in the opening Republican debate. She advanced from flaky to crusty, from outlandish to charismatic, from beyond the fringe to inside the ring.

“She doesn’t seem crazy at all,” observes the piously liberal New Republic magazine, with what passes for praise for a conservative woman.

The Minnesota congresswoman entered the mainstream by swimming smoothly into the lane vacated by Mike Huckabee.

“I’m a serious member of Congress,” she once declared to a photographer arranging the setting at a photo shoot. She wanted to make sure the focus was sharp.

She’s known for doing her homework, building an argument based on personal research with facts, a quick intelligence and passionate conviction. She makes mistakes. She got the Founding Fathers and the arguments over slavery mixed up, a mistake like Barack Obama’s famous reference to “the 57 states.” Her mistakes aren’t as major as the liberal media blow them up to be, but she sometimes talks faster than she thinks. It’s a failing seen before among politicians, pundits and even philosophers.

Her critics say that as smart as she is, she has suffered from spending too much time inside her “biblical worldview.” In my informal interviews of conservatives, I’ve found that they want her in the fray, rallying the troops on the social issues, but that’s about as far as they want it to go. They find her savvy and a great campaigner, but they prefer her working for others rather than herself. (Just like Sarah Palin.)

Some conservatives recall her lack of discrimination before the 2008 election, when she described Obama as “anti-American,” and suggesting that reporters should look into the views of members of Congress to find out who is “pro-America or anti-America.” Hers was an error of judgment, and it hurt. She managed to get re-elected, but the margin was much closer than it should have been in a Michele-friendly district, and she ran 7 points behind John McCain.

Michele the presidential campaigner seems unafraid of increased scrutiny, mean-spirited as much of it will be, now that she’s accomplished her wish to be taken seriously.

Her opposition to gay marriage, though well in line with national sentiment, provoked her opponents to stoop particularly low to conquer. They smeared her husband with innuendo in a nasty whispering campaign that gives new meaning to “sexual politics.” The innuendo reflects the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered mockery of her husband, questioning his sexual orientation, using photographs and videos with more than hints that he suffers from repressed homosexuality. One mincing blogger said he would make “a fine first lady if nothing else.”

Homosexuals, like heterosexuals, seek counseling for all kinds of reasons, and some gays have earnestly sought help at Marcus Bachmann’s clinic and its faith-based approaches to psychotherapy. He is accused of trying to “cure” them with a controversial method using “prayer for repair.” His irreligious critics mock the idea that a suffering gay can ever “pray away the gay,” but it’s hardly a sin (or even a shortcoming) to help a troubled soul seeking Christian counseling.

Like most mental health issues, cure rates for complaints from gays, like those from heterosexuals, are difficult to calculate. Whatever works as treatment is usually permissible as long it does no harm and is not exploitive. Psychoanalysts have a long record of treating homosexuality as pathology with very little verifiable data of what they’ve accomplished.

Before 1974, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a mental disease, and voted to erase it from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Later, they called it an “ego-dystonic” problem, which included distress over homosexual feelings or lack of heterosexual ones.

Soon the shrinks moved the diagnosis away from personal affliction altogether to an affliction imposed by prejudice, and blamed society for a new illness called “homophobia.” Many now insist such prejudice comes under the rubric of civil rights. Lots of gays continue to seek help for all kinds of psychological problems, many stemming specifically from their sexual orientation.

Supporters of gay rights, who loathe the satirical stereotyping of homosexuals, nevertheless take special delight in stereotyping heterosexuals they see as having “gay mannerisms.” When Jerry Seinfeld joined Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” they watched a video of the Bachmanns dancing together and joked about Dr. Bachmann’s “effeminate manner.” They wondered with more nastiness than wit whether someone teaching people not to be gay had absorbed the gay style himself.

Since the congresswoman has been outspoken in identifying religious bigotry in the attacks against her, the viciousness toward her husband is likely to backfire, and only fire up her friends and supporters. They’ll learn that playing with matches is a dangerous game.

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