Six Characters in Search of a Blogger


1.4 Michele Bachmann needs a time machine

Yes, you heard me say it.  Michele Bachmann needs a time machine.  

Let me tell you why.

Perhaps, during the crazed three-ring circus of what was (and still is, in some states) Election 2008, you may have missed Congresswoman Bachmann’s (R-MN) not-so-shining moment in the media spotlight.  She appeared on Hardball with Chris Matthews for an interview on October 17 to voice her support for the McCain/Palin ticket, where she weighed in on Obama’s associations with Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers.  During that conversation, she made made some very frightening comments about anti-Americanism in the U.S.  Here are just a few of the gems:

When asked about liberals being anti-American:  

“…Most Americans, Chris, are wild about America and they’re very concerned to have a president that does not share those values. …I am very concerned that he [Barack Obama] may have anti-American views.”

When asked about which areas of the country are anti-American:

“I don’t think it’s geography. I think it is people who don’t like America, who detest America and on college campuses Ward Churchill, another college campus, a Bill Ayers, you find people who hate America and unfortunately some of these people have positions teaching in institutions of higher learning but you’ll find them in all walks of life all throughout America.”

When asked about anti-American members of Congress:

“What I would say is that the news media should do a penetrating exposé and take a look. I wish they would. I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out, are they pro-America or anti-America? I think people would love to see an exposé like that.”

If you want the more of the full interview experience, check out the video here:

 

 

I’m not sure if Congresswoman Bachmann is familiar with McCarthyism or not; she was born in 1956, just as the movement was starting to wane.  And I’m not sure if she paid any attention to her history lessons about the McCarthy era while she was in school (if there were any).  Perhaps–and I’m grasping at straws here–she went on a date with her husband to see “Good Night and Good Luck,” George Clooney’s powerful film about Edward R. Murrow’s journalistic struggle to expose the McCarthy witch hunt.  Hmm, doubtful.  Clooney is probably a bit too politically left of center for her taste, not to mention a chronic bachelor who goes off to Africa far too often.

Tardis for hire?

Tardis for hire?

So that’s why I’m commissioning a time machine for her.  Or any means of time travel that is available, personal or mechanical.  Because if she hasn’t learned about the evils of McCarthyist perspectives by now (blindly accusing Barack Obama and liberals around the country of being “anti-American,”) then she needs to see these evils for herself.  Perhaps Dr. Who could take her on a short expedition back to the 1950s in his Tardis, charming her with all his brilliant witticisms along the way.  Or maybe Harry Potter’s friend Hermione Granger could make a special trip to Minnesota with her Time-Turner and help out–Britain and the U.S. are diplomatic cousins, after all.  Even Hiro Nakamura from the NBC show Heroes could take a brief respite from saving the world to escort Ms. Bachmann back.  (And I think this trip would count towards his “saving the world” miles, anyway.) 

A good place to start would be on February 9, 1950, at Senator Joe McCarthy’s speech before the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, WV, where he first announced his infamous “list of 205” Communists working in the State Department.  That was the spark that set off the fire–from thence followed fear, accusations, recriminations, blacklists, Congressional hearings, the Rosenberg trial, and Herbert Hoover’s reign of terror in the FBI.  Innocent people’s lives were destroyed, both literally and figuratively–destroyed simply because of paranoia about their political affiliations and “Americanness.”  That last word sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?

What I hope Ms. Bachmann would gain from her time travel would be an understanding of the very real difference between “patriotism” and “nationalism” that we, as Americans, as Citizens of the World, should be aware of.  Patriotism is love of country; and like any love, there are many forms of it, that are expressed in different ways.  My patriotism will be different from that of someone in western Pennsylvania, which will be different than someone’s in San Francisco.  And those differences should be celebrated, not scorned.  With “nationalism,” however, we stray more into the realm of ideology–it is about loyalty and dedication to the notion of what a country is, to the point of considering one’s nation superior to all others.  This may not sound terribly ominous; I mean, we all consider the U.S. to be a great country (even if for some of us it is more in ideal than in practice.)  But it is when nationalism becomes extreme–and is painted in the language of absolutes (like “pro-American” and “anti-American”)–that we need to be very careful.  Nationalism is the force that drives the English-only U.S. language movement, as well as the “America for Americans” anti-immigration stance.  Therefore it must be handled delicately indeed.  Because it is not a large jump from the extremes of nationalism into the realm of xenophobia and fascism.

Now, in recent days, Bachmann has denied making her statements about Barack Obama, and about “anti-Americanism,” and such.  She has called her controversial appearance on MSNBC a misunderstanding, and even a trap by the media.  And she declared in a campaign ad that surfaced after the Hardball broadcast that  “I may not always get my words right” but I still believe in “liberty.”  She has even gone so far as to say about the results of the recent election that she is “extremely grateful that we have an African American who has won this year” and that it is “a tremendous signal we sent.”  (Source: Politco.com)

But I still have my doubts. 

So for the final leg of her tour of the McCarthy era, I would send Bachmann back to June of 1956–just two months after she was born–to the testimony of Paul Robeson before the House Un-American Activities Committee.  Robeson was a prominent African-American athlete/actor/artist/activist/lawyer during that time, and was a fairly controversial figure of his day, with sentimental ties to many countries, including the Soviet Union.  This was primarily because of his tireless campaign for equal rights for African Americans, as he viewed other countries as models for the way America might be.  But regardless of his questionable affiliations,  he was proud to be an American.  And his words ring clear, bright and true against the accusations of his questioners.  I can think of no better way to close this post (apologies for the length; but the substance is definitely worth it.) 

***

Mr. ROBESON: You are the author of all of the bills that are going to keep all kinds of decent people out of the country.

THE CHAIRMAN: No, only your kind.

Mr. ROBESON: Colored people like myself, from the West Indies and all kinds. And just the Teutonic Anglo-Saxon stock that you would let come in.

THE CHAIRMAN: We are trying to make it easier to get rid of your kind, too.

Mr. ROBESON: You do not want any colored people to come in?

THE CHAIRMAN: Proceed. . . .

Mr. ROBESON: Could I say that the reason that I am here today, you know, from the mouth of the State Department itself, is: I should not be allowed to travel because I have struggled for years for the independence of the colonial peoples of Africa. For many years I have so labored and I can say modestly that my name is very much honored all over Africa, in my struggles for their independence. That is the kind of independence like Sukarno got in Indonesia. Unless we are double-talking, then these efforts in the interest of Africa would be in the same context. The other reason that I am here today, again from the State Department and from the court record of the court of appeals, is that when I am abroad I speak out against the injustices against the Negro people of this land. I sent a message to the Bandung Conference and so forth. That is why I am here. This is the basis, and I am not being tried for whether I am a Communist, I am being tried for fighting for the rights of my people, who are still second-class citizens in this United States of America. My mother was born in your state, Mr. Walter, and my mother was a Quaker, and my ancestors in the time of Washington baked bread for George Washington’s troops when they crossed the Delaware, and my own father was a slave. I stand here struggling for the rights of my people to be full citizens in this country. And they are not. They are not in Mississippi. And they are not in Montgomery, Alabama. And they are not in Washington. They are nowhere, and that is why I am here today. You want to shut up every Negro who has the courage to stand up and fight for the rights of his people, for the rights of workers, and I have been on many a picket line for the steelworkers too. And that is why I am here today. . . .

Paul Robeson

Paul Robeson

Mr. ARENS: Did you make a trip to Europe in 1949 and to the Soviet Union?   

Mr. ROBESON: Yes, I made a trip. To England. And I sang.

Mr. ARENS: Where did you go?

Mr. ROBESON: I went first to England, where I was with the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of two American groups which was invited to England. I did a long concert tour in England and Denmark and Sweden, and I also sang for the Soviet people, one of the finest musical audiences in the world. Will you read what the Porgy and Bess people said? They never heard such applause in their lives. One of the most musical peoples in the world, and the great composers and great musicians, very cultured people, and Tolstoy, and-

THE CHAIRMAN: We know all of that.

Mr. ROBESON: They have helped our culture and we can learn a lot. 

. . . .

Mr. SCHERER: Why do you not stay in Russia?

Mr. ROBESON: Because my father was a slave, and my people died to build this country, and I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you. And no Fascist-minded people will drive me from it. Is that clear? I am for peace with the Soviet Union, and I am for peace with China, and I am not for peace or friendship with the Fascist Franco, and I am not for peace with Fascist Nazi Germans. I am for peace with decent people.

Mr. SCHERER: You are here because you are promoting the Communist cause.

Mr. ROBESON: I am here because I am opposing the neo-Fascist cause which I see arising in these committees. You are like the Alien [and] Sedition Act, and Jefferson could be sitting here, and Frederick Douglass could be sitting here, and Eugene Debs could be here.

. . . .

THE CHAIRMAN: Now, what prejudice are you talking about? You were graduated from Rutgers and you were graduated from the University of Pennsylvania. I remember seeing you play football at Lehigh.

Mr. ROBESON: We beat Lehigh.

THE CHAIRMAN: And we had a lot of trouble with you.

Mr. ROBESON: That is right. DeWysocki was playing in my team.

THE CHAIRMAN: There was no prejudice against you. Why did you not send your son to Rutgers?

Mr. ROBESON: Just a moment. This is something that I challenge very deeply, and very sincerely: that the success of a few Negroes, including myself or Jackie Robinson can make up—and here is a study from Columbia University—for seven hundred dollars a year for thousands of Negro families in the South. My father was a slave, and I have cousins who are sharecroppers, and I do not see my success in terms of myself. That is the reason my own success has not meant what it should mean: I have sacrificed literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars for what I believe in.

. . . .

Mr. ARENS: Now I would invite your attention, if you please, to the Daily Worker of June 29, 1949, with reference to a get-together with you and Ben Davis. Do you know Ben Davis?

Mr. ROBESON: One of my dearest friends, one of the finest Americans you can imagine, born of a fine family, who went to Amherst and was a great man.

THE CHAIRMAN: The answer is yes?

Mr. ROBESON: Nothing could make me prouder than to know him.

THE CHAIRMAN: That answers the question.

Mr. ARENS: Did I understand you to laud his patriotism?

Mr. ROBESON: I say that he is as patriotic an American as there can be, and you gentlemen belong with the Alien and Sedition Acts, and you are the nonpatriots, and you are the un-Americans, and you ought to be ashamed of yourselves.

THE CHAIRMAN: Just a minute, the hearing is now adjourned.

Mr. ROBESON: I should think it would be.

THE CHAIRMAN: I have endured all of this that I can.

Mr. ROBESON: Can I read my statement?

THE CHAIRMAN: No, you cannot read it. The meeting is adjourned.

Mr. ROBESON: I think it should be, and you should adjourn this forever, that is what I would say.

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4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I really enjoyed this post! It touches on a lot of the same issues as a great book I just read, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen. It exposes the current History textbooks as being told exclusively from the point of view of those with power: European-Americans.
It raises the issue of nationalism, suggesting students are conditioned at a young age to not question governmental authority; but rather to assume that our government is always acting in the interest of freedom, democracy, and progress.
The book also highlights the lack of attention given in textbooks given to important minorities in history, specifically women, African-Americans, and Native Americans. The fact that I have never seen or heard Paul Robeson’s name mentioned in any textbook or lecture supports that position. It’s unfortunate that many young people are never exposed to someone as insightful and potentially inspirational (especially for young African-Americans)as Robeson.

Comment by Tim F.

Tim, thanks for the comment! A likely reason we haven’t heard of Robeson is that he said complimentary things about Stalin and the Stalinist regime during his time, which was a big no-no during the Cold War. Apparently he was also discovered to have been a secret member of the Communist Party after his death, which was also held against him. Now of course, as we have been reminded quite recently, “socialism” and “communism” are still incredibly dirty words in our democracy. Which is a pity, because the fear of those words, as well as the fear of other political systems, only undermines the strength of our own. If we are confident in our own democracy then we should be fearless.

Robeson was an extraordinary person. His political affiliation shouldn’t matter a jot–especially since his espousal of communism had to do with his Civil Rights advocacy and the belief in equal treatment for all people. His story definitely deserves more notice…maybe I’ll feature him in a future blog post.

Comment by observeroflife

What a great post! If only Michelle Bachmann and those that share her views could take that ride in the time machine and learn something.

She has been a controversial figure in Minnesota politics for quite some time. I don’t understand why she keeps winning.

I love your writing!

M~

Comment by mielikkisrealm

I live in Michele Bachmann’s district. It will do no use to put her in a time machine because she only observes the facts that fit her view of the world–which has nothing to do with reality, as do the views of the majority of her supporters. We have some very strong Democrats in Minnesota’s 6th district, but we are very out numbered and it is very hard to get a quality candidate to run because the hard right wing religious crazies are at least 25% of the population–then there are the Republicans who simply aren’t paying attention or just can’t vote for a Democrat. I figure I’ll work on getting more local democrats elected and leave Michele as a far outnumbered crazy on the national scene and maybe one day we will overcome. Besides she is amusing in her craziness, look her up on Youtube and see how a laser beam from God told her to run, how there is no Global Warming, etc. Gotta spell her name right one “l” in Michele, two “n”s in Bachmann.

Comment by Minnesota Mom




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