By Amanda Marcotte | 18 August 2011
As the battle for the Republican nomination for president heats up, more attention is being paid to Rep. Michele Bachmann from Minnesota, who is cast as the crazy-eyed right-wing nut, and Gov. Rick Perry from Texas, who gets to play the role of the more reasonable Republican who will likely win the nomination.
But, as the progressive press has been doggedly trying to expose, Bachmann and Perry are far more alike in the “crazy right-wing nut” department than they might initially seem. After all, Perry has a record of ordering the execution of an obviously innocent man, which goes beyond being tough on crime into the territory of killing as a demonstration of power.
So what’s the real story? In a battle of who’s the biggest right-wing nut, who would win, Michele Bachmann or Rick Perry? I compiled a set of barometers of modern right-wing nuttery and weighed each candidate against them to see who really deserves a reputation in the Beltway media as too much of a right-wing extremist to be taken seriously:
Christian Dominionism. Dominionism used to be a fringe belief, even among fundamentalist Christians in politics, because it’s rooted in Christian Reconstructionism, an ideology that promotes extreme theocracy and includes legalizing slavery and stoning people as criminal punishments for such “crimes” as homosexuality and disobedience to parents. However, in recent years, evangelicals have picked up Dominionism, ignoring its most unsavory aspects in favor of running with the arguments for theocracy. As Michelle Golberg recounted in the Daily Beast, both Bachmann and Perry have taken beliefs from Dominionists, and put into action the idea that the American government should be a Christian theocracy based around a fundamentalist interpretation of Scripture.
Both Perry and Bachmann put a great deal of effort into their theocratic values. Perry not only hosted a prayer event at the governor’s mansion, a blatant violation of the separation of church and state, but it was sponsored by a group of Dominionists who believe God wants them to take over all the pillars of government and society so they can run the country as a Pentecostal theocracy.
Frank Schaeffer, who used to be an adherent to these theocratic views but has since changed his mind, has also called out Bachmann. Referencing a New Yorker profile of Bachmann that exposed her religious extremism, Schaeffer fleshed out the radical agenda of Bachmann’s mentors and colleagues, pointing out that folks who believe in this philosophy are willing to destroy the country’s economic system if that’s what it takes for them to take the reins of power.
Wingnut points: Two per, because as Goldberg says, “Perry tends to be regarded as marginally more reasonable than Bachmann, but he is as closely associated with Dominionism as she is, though his links are to a different strain of the ideology [a Pentecostal one].”
The very existence of federal power. Bachmann is no lightweight in making outrageous, hypocritical claims about the illegitimacy of federal power, claiming, for instance, that she would like to destroy the EPA while quietly requesting money from the agency for her district. Bachmann also expressed a desire to end Social Security and Medicare, but of course only for future generations, as she wants the vote of elderly people who are happy to get theirs while telling future generations to starve. Perry has gone a step further, not only denouncing these programs for future generations, but also claiming they’re unconstitutional. Perry recently abandoned the entire piecemeal approach, calling on the president to cease enforcing all federal regulations, presumably so we can get past this tedious phase of national decline and move right into Mad Max territory.
Wingnut points: Bachmann gets two for potshots against regulatory agencies and hypocritical but gradual assault on entitlement programs. Perry gets five for denouncing the legitimacy of any federal power, idealizing anarchy, insinuating that Obama invented the concept of federal regulation, and wanting not just to kill Medicare and Social Security, but also to start starving seniors right now.
Lightbulbs. Paranoia about lightbulbs is the 21st century analog of the 1960s belief that fluoridated drinking water was a mind-control conspiracy, i.e. the calling card of a true right-wing believer. In 2007, the federal government passed efficiency regulations for lightbulbs that created an explosion in more efficient alternatives to traditional incandescent lightbulbs. Paranoid right-wingers chose to interpret this as a “ban” on incandescents, and suddenly every hard-right-winger in the land was required to pretend there’s an inverse relationship between the quality of a light and its efficiency. Both Perry and Bachmann carry on like the federal government is about to ban indoor lighting altogether. Bachmann gets points for hyperbole, attempting to argue that Thomas Edison would somehow oppose his invention becoming more energy-efficient. Perry signed a law exempting lightbulbs both made and sold in the state (does that market exist?) from federal law, which is quite likely unconstitutional.
Wingnut points: Two for Bachmann for silliness and paranoia, but four to Perry for silliness, paranoia, pretending that a bill Bush signed was signed by Obama, and passing legislation that panders to radical right anti-federalism.
History. Bachmann racked up a number of headlines with her confidence in making verifiably false claims about history. She’s shrugged off most of these claims as gaffes, even though her overall understanding of American history conflicts strongly with the realities. Rick Perry has a similarly poor understanding of history, but in addition to believing soothing lies, Perry appointed members to the Texas School Board who demanded textbooks erase mentions of the separation of church and state, and instead imply that our Founders actually wanted a theocracy.
Wingnut points: One to Bachmann for being wrong, two to Perry for trying to bamboozle schoolchildren.
The Confederacy. Hard-right-wingers idealize the Confederacy, downplay slavery, and insist that the men in gray had a right to secede from the Union. Perry enjoys stoking Confederate apologists by repeatedly suggesting that Texas could secede, though this time to get away from the black president instead of to defend the right to own black people. Bachmann, being from a non-Confederate state, panders differently, by signing off on the belief that slavery was beneficial for black people, on the specious grounds that slavery socialized them into the Christian nuclear family.
Wingnut points: One per. Different takes, but same result: pandering to Confederate fantasies of the hard right.
Sex. Both Perry and Bachmann are anti-choice and anti-gay, which are bare minimum requirements to be Republicans. To stand out from the crowd, Bachmann aggressively hates on human sexuality, calling gynecology offices “sex clinics,” and describing routine reproductive health care in tones that are more appropriate to describing heroin distribution rings in elementary schools. (One wonders how she survived one of those “sex clinic” doctors delivering her five children.) Perry, on the other hand, notoriously let common sense prevail in his role as governor, mandating that girls entering the 6th grade had to have the HPV vaccine, saving them from a future of cervical biopsies, genital warts, and even cervical cancer. However, pressure from right-wingers who believe death from cancer is a fair punishment for women who have sex caused Perry to walk it back.
Wingnut points: Three to Bachmann for being anti-sex, making it a priority, and treating gynecology like it’s a criminal perversion. Two to Perry for being anti-choice and caving to extremists who support cancer as an appropriate consequence for having sex.
Science. Both Perry and Bachmann object to the theory of evolution, even though evolution has a similar scientific consensus to the theory that mammals need to breathe oxygen to survive. Perry put his anti-science views into action, appointing creationists to the Texas School Board in hopes they can deceive Texas schoolchildren about reality.
Perry and Bachmann also object to global warming, even though it also enjoys scientific consensus. Bachmann’s objections to science won her a space on the House GOP American Energy Solutions Group, which is dedicated to killing off any actual solutions to American energy problems. Perry went beyond vague insinuations that he somehow knows better than scientists about climate into the territory of promoting the theory that climate change is a global hoax involving thousands—millions?—of scientists and leaders, in order to get the sweet cash from imaginary funders who have some non-disclosed interest in cutting into oil profits. Instead of listening to scientists on the subject of climate, Perry prefers a more 12th-century approach, asking people instead to pray for rain.
Wingnut points: Three to Bachmann, two for denying evolution and global warming, and one for putting her global warming denialism into action. Five to Perry, two for denying evolution and global warming, two for putting those beliefs into action, and one for promoting a far-right conspiracy theory.
Hypocrisy on the stimulus. One of the great pastimes of hard-line right-wingers these past two years has been loudly denouncing the economic stimulus as a waste of money that won’t create jobs, and then turning around to ask for stimulus funds on the grounds that they want the job creation in their own districts. When it comes to denouncing Obama, they believe that stimulus is ineffective, but when it comes to actual governance, they believe stimulus is effective. Perry and Bachmann are both aggressive offenders. On the very same day Perry started an online petition denouncing the stimulus, he requested stimulus funds for Texas, an amount that plugged up nearly 97 percent of the state’s budget shortfall. Bachmann also railed against the stimulus while firing off letter after letter to the White House requesting funds for her district, an effort that failed.
Wingnut points: One for Bachmann for asking, and two for Perry for succeeding.
Women’s submission. Bachmann’s gotten a lot attention for her belief in Biblical submission, which teaches that women are to obey their husbands as if they were God. She tried to recast this belief as a semantic issue where “submit” suddenly means “respect,” but the belief became clear when she specifically referenced how her husband chose a career for her that she hated, but was powerless to refuse. Perry thinks it’s natural to assume that women do all their husbands’ ironing, but hasn’t suggested that a woman who demurs is on the path to hell.
Wingnut points: One to Perry for regular ol’ sexism. Three to Bachmann for sexism, Bible-thumping, and the hypocrisy of offering herself as a leader when her faith requires her to have no real will of her own at home.
Conversion story. An impossibly high number of right-wing nuts claim they used to be Democrats, but were somehow driven from the fold by the evilness of liberals. Most of these supposed converts are making it all up, but both Bachmann and Perry have real-world evidence of previous time spent backing Democratic candidates. Bachmann’s story is a little fishier, as she claims she worked for Jimmy Carter and then somehow was run off liberalism because Gore Vidal’s writing hurt her feelings.
Perry did more than knock on a few doors for a Democrat in college: he was the leader of the Texas effort to elect Al Gore president in 1988. Instead of spinning a fancy conversion tale, however, Perry simply lies about Gore’s beliefs, trying to imply that Gore was barely a Democrat and certainly no environmentalist. The truth is that Gore prioritized global warming during the ‘88 campaign, having worked on the issue in depth since the 1970s.
Wingnut points: One to Michele Bachmann for turning her past into an exciting right-wing conversion story. Zero to Perry for trying to cover up his past as a Democratic organizer.
Totaling the points, Bachmann has a hearty 19 extremist points gathered over these 10 issue areas. But Perry wins the race for biggest right-wing nut with a solid 24 points.
The only question left is why, then, does the Beltway media portray Perry as the more moderate, mainstream alternative to Bachmann?
Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.
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