Matt Taibbi’s polemical piece on the self-anointed prophet of tea part evangelism, Michele Bachmann, is worth a read, but suffers for its tone. If half of the facts he’s dredged up about Bachmann are true — multiple, abortive attempts to turn the machinery of state into a proselytizing organization, for example — then the thing speaks for itself, and requires none of Taibbi’s invective to prove just how dangerous representative Bachmann truly is. He makes one exceptionally useful point, though, that deserves its own separate treatment:
Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can’t tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don’t learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you’re a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they’re even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies. [. . . .]
All of those people out there aren’t voting for Michele Bachmann. They’re voting against us.
The first paragraph feels like a conclusion; the second is. Views like Bachmann’s are objectively unreasonable. But we live in a country where more than a few of us reject inferential reasoning, and substitute belief, to define the boundaries of their reality. As hard as it is to admit, we can’t win battles like this by disputing first premises. Matt’s right; we’ll lose, and come off worse in the process. We need to understand these beliefs, and be able to articulate not why they’re bad, but why they’re not appropriate to govern a diverse nation.
We may not even be able to win that. It’s been painfully clear for a while now that, for the religious right, faith trumps constitutionalism. But we can try.