Saturday, July 9, 2011

Robert Parry On the Republican Party, Rightwing Propaganda, and the Organized Destabilization of the American Political Economy

http://streetvisuals.wordpress.com/2011/06/05/making-the-us-economy-‘scream’/

via consortiumnews.com


All,

This is an excellent and ominous analysis by Robert Parry of what is truly at stake in the upcoming 2012 presidential election cycle and how dire the consequences will be if we simply sit idly by and fail to defeat the right in this upcoming national war over the very future of the country and our own lives. Parry's incisive and right on target piece is a profound reminder that no matter what our actual deep frustrations with and necessary political and ideological criticisms of the Obama administration are we cannot afford to let these equally important ongoing progressive debates within our ranks deter us from organizing to re-elect the President so that we can all live to fight another day to move this country in the many new directions it must be to fulfill our fundamental desires and needs...In the meantime and in any event cynicism, fatalism, and despair in the face of our enemies are not an option and can only lead to even worse disasters. We must be--as always!-- prepared to fight on many different fronts if we're truly serious about creating a vital and viable alternative to the disintegrating society and culture we see all around us. This political and electoral dogfight in 2012 is only one of those fronts but it's an important one that can't be dismissed or neglected. If it is it will only be to our collective peril. FOR REAL. As usual: Spread the Word...

Kofi


MAKING THE US ECONOMY ‘SCREAM’
by Robert Parry
Posted by Street Visuals
June 5, 2011


Exclusive: Over the past several decades, Republican methods for winning national power have come to resemble CIA techniques for destabilizing an enemy country — through the use of black propaganda, political skullduggery and economic disruptions. Now, heading toward Election 2012, the Republicans appear poised to make the U.S. economy “scream,” observes Robert Parry.

Modern Republicans have a simple approach to politics when they are not in the White House: Make America as ungovernable as possible by using almost any means available, from challenging the legitimacy of opponents to spreading lies and disinformation to sabotaging the economy.

Over the past four decades or so, the Republicans have simply not played by the old give-and-take rules of politics. Indeed, if one were to step back and assess this Republican approach, what you would see is something akin to how the CIA has destabilized target countries, especially those that seek to organize themselves in defiance of capitalist orthodoxy.

To stop this spread of “socialism,” nearly anything goes. Take, for example, Chile in the early 1970s when socialist President Salvador Allende won an election and took steps aimed at improving the conditions of the country’s poor.

Under the direction of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the CIA was dispatched to engage in psychological warfare against Allende’s government and to make the Chilean economy “scream.”

U.S. intelligence agencies secretly sponsored Chilean news outlets, like the influential newspaper El Mercurio, and supported “populist” uprisings of truckers and housewives. On the economic front, the CIA coordinated efforts to starve the Chilean government of funds and to drive unemployment higher.

Worsening joblessness could then be spun by the CIA-financed news outlets as proof that Allende’s policies didn’t work and that the only choice for Chile was to scrap its social programs. When Allende compromised with the Right, that had the additional benefit of causing friction between him and some of his supporters who wanted even more radical change.

As Chile became increasingly ungovernable, the stage was set for the violent overthrow of Allende, the installation of a rightist dictatorship, and the imposition of “free-market” economics that directed more wealth and power to Chile’s rich and their American corporate backers.

Though the Allende case in Chile is perhaps the best known example of this intelligence strategy (because it was investigated by a Senate committee in the mid-1970s), the CIA has employed this approach frequently around the world. Sometimes the target government is removed without violence, although other times a bloody coup d’etat has been part of the mix.

Home to Roost

So, it is perhaps fitting that a comparable approach to politics would eventually come home to roost in the United States, even to the point that some of the propaganda funding comes from outside sources (think of Rev. Sun Myung Moon’s Washington Times and Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.)
Obviously, given the wealth of the American elites, the relative proportion of the propaganda funding is derived more domestically in the United States than it would be in a place like Chile (or some other unfortunate Third World country that has gotten on Washington’s bad side).

But the concept remains the same: Control as much as possible what the population gets to see and hear; create chaos for your opponent’s government, economically and politically; blame if for the mess; and establish in the minds of the voters that they’re only way out is to submit, that the pain will stop once your side is back in power.
Today’s Republicans have fully embraced this concept of political warfare, whereas the Democrats generally have tried to play by the old rules, acquiescing when Republicans are in office with the goal of “making government work,” even if the Republicans are setting the agenda.

Unlike the Democrats and the Left, the Republicans and the Right have prepared themselves for this battle, almost as if they are following a CIA training manual. They have invested tens of billions of dollars in a propaganda infrastructure that operates 24/7, year-round, to spot and exploit missteps by political enemies.

This vertically integrated media machine allows useful information to move quickly from a right-wing blog to talk radio to Fox News to the Wall Street Journal to conservative magazines and book publishing. Right-wing propagandists are well-trained and well-funded so they can be deployed to all manner of public outlets to hammer home the talking points.

When a Democrat somehow does manage to get into the White House, Republicans in Congress (and even in the Courts) are ready to do their part in the destabilization campaign. Rather than grant traditional “honeymoon” periods of cooperation with the president’s early policies, the battle lines are drawn immediately.

In late 1992, for instance, Bill Clinton complained that his “honeymoon” didn’t even last through the transition, the two-plus months before a new president takes office. He found himself facing especially harsh hazing from the Washington press corps, as the mainstream media – seeking to shed its “liberal” label and goaded by the right-wing media – tried to demonstrate that it would be tougher on a Democrat than any Republican.

The mainstream press hyped minor “scandals” about Clinton’s Whitewater real estate investment and Travel-gate, a flap about some routine firings at the White House travel office. Meanwhile, the Right’s rapidly growing media was spreading false stories implicating Clinton in the death of White House aide Vince Foster and other “mysterious deaths.”

Republicans in Congress did all they could to feed the press hysteria, holding hearings and demanding that special prosecutors be appointed. When the Clinton administration relented, the choice of prosecutors was handed over to right-wing Republican Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle, who consciously picked political enemies of Clinton to oversee zealous investigations.

Finally Winning

The use of scandal-mongering to destabilize the Clinton administration finally peaked in late 1998 and early 1999 when the Republican-controlled House voted impeachment and Clinton had to endure (but survive) a humiliating trial in the Senate.
The Republican strategy, however, continued into Campaign 2000 with Vice President Al Gore facing attacks on his character and integrity. Gore was falsely painted as a delusional braggart, as both right-wing and mainstream media outlets freely misquoted him and subjected him to ridicule (while simultaneously bowing and scraping before Republican candidate George W. Bush).

When Gore managed to win the national popular vote anyway – and would have carried the key state of Florida if all legally cast ballots were counted – the Republicans and the Right rose up in fury demanding that the Florida count be stopped before Bush’s tiny lead completely disappeared. Starting a minor riot in Miami, the Republicans showed how far they would go to claim the White House again.

Five Republican partisans on the U.S. Supreme Court – wanting to ensure that the new president would keep their side in control of the courts and recognizing that their party was prepared to spread disorder if Gore prevailed – stopped the counting of votes and made Bush the “winner.” [For details, see the book, Neck Deep.]

Despite this partisan ruling, Gore and the Democrats stepped back from the political confrontation. The right-wing press cheered and gloated, while the mainstream news media urged the people to accept Bush as “legitimate” for the good of the country.

For most of Bush’s disastrous presidency, this dynamic remained the same. Though barely able to complete a coherent sentence, Bush was treated with great deference, even when he failed to protect the country from the 9/11 attacks and led the nation into an unprovoked war with Iraq. There were no combative investigations of Bush like those that surrounded Clinton.

Even at the end of Bush’s presidency – when his policies of deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and massive budget deficits combined to create the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression – the prevailing message from the Establishment was that it was unfair to lay too much blame on Bush.

Shortly after Barack Obama took office in 2009, a Republican/right-wing talking point was to complain when anyone took note of the mess that Bush had left behind: “There you go again, blaming Bush.”


Getting Obama

Immediately, too, the Republicans and the Right set to work demonizing and destroying Obama’s presidency. Instead of allowing the Democrats to enact legislation aimed at addressing the financial and economic crisis, the Senate Republicans launched filibuster after filibuster.

When Obama and the Democrats did push through emergency legislation, such as the $787 billion stimulus package, they had to water it down to reach the 60-vote super-majority. The Republicans and the Right then quickly laid the blame for high unemployment on the “failed” stimulus.

There also were waves of propaganda pounding Obama’s legitimacy. The Right’s news media pressed bogus accusations that Obama had been born in Kenya and thus was not constitutionally eligible to be president. He was denounced as a socialist, a Muslim, a fascist, an enemy of Israel, and pretty much any other charge that might hit some American hot button.

When Obama welcomed American students back to school in 2009, the Right organized against his simple message – urging young people to work hard – as if it were some form of totalitarian mind control. His attempt to address the growing crisis in American health care was denounced as taking away freedoms and imposing “death panels.”

Soon, billionaires like oil man David Koch and media mogul Murdoch, were promoting a “grassroots” rebellion against Obama called the Tea Party. Activists were showing up at presidential speeches with guns and brandishing weapons at rallies near Washington.

The high-decibel disruptions and the “screaming” economy created the impression of political chaos. Largely ignoring the role of the Republicans, the press faulted Obama for failing to live up to his campaign promise to bring greater bipartisanship to Washington.

Hearing the discord framed that way, many average Americans also blamed Obama; many of the President’s supporters grew demoralized; and, as happened with Allende in Chile, some on the Left turned against Obama for not doing more, faster.

By November 2010, the stage was set for a big Republican comeback. The party swept to victory in the House and fell just short in the Senate. But Congress was not the Republicans’ true goal. What they really want is the White House with all its executive powers.

However, following Obama’s success in killing Osama bin Laden on May 2 and with what is widely regarded as a weak Republican presidential field, the Right’s best hope for regaining complete control of the U.S. government in 2012 is to sink the U.S. economy.

Already, the Republican success in limiting the scope of the stimulus package and then labeling it a failure – combined with deep cuts in local, state and federal government spending – have helped push the economy back to the brink where a double-dip recession is now a serious concern.

Despite these worries – and a warning from Moody’s about a possible downgrade on U.S. debt if Congress delays action on raising the debt limit – the Republicans are vowing more brinksmanship over the debt-limit vote. Before acting, they are demanding major reductions in government spending (while refusing to raise taxes on the rich).

A Conundrum

So, Obama and the Democrats face another conundrum. If they slash spending too much, they will further stall the recovery. However, if they refuse to submit to this latest round of Republican blackmail, they risk a debt crisis that could have devastating consequences for the U.S. economy for years – even decades – to come.

Either way, the right-wing media and much of the mainstream press will put the blame on Obama and the Democrats. They will be held accountable for failing to govern.

The Republican propaganda machine will tell the American people that they must throw Obama and the Democrats out of office for stability to return. There will be assurances about how the “magic of the market” will bring back the bright days of prosperity.

Of course, the reality of a new Republican administration, especially with a GOP Congress, would be the return of the old right-wing nostrums: more tax cuts for the rich, less regulation of corporations, more military spending, and more privatization of social programs.

Any budget balancing will come at the expense of labor rights for union employees and shifting the costs for health care onto the backs of the elderly. Yet, all this will be surrounded by intense propaganda explaining the public pain as a hangover from misguided government “social engineering.”

There is, of course, the possibility that the American people will see through today’s Republican CIA-style strategy of “making the economy scream.” Americans might come to recognize the role of the pseudo-populist propagandists on Fox News and talk radio.

Or Republicans might have second thoughts about playing chicken on the debt limit and running the risk of a global depression. Such a gamble could redound against them. And, it’s hard to believe that even their most ardent billionaire-backers would find destruction of their stock portfolios that appealing.

But there can be a momentum to madness. We have seen throughout history that events can get out of hand, that thoroughly propagandized true believers can truly believe. Sometimes, they don’t understand they are simply being manipulated for a lesser goal. Once the chaos starts, it is hard to restore order.

That has been another bloody lesson from the CIA’s operations in countries around the world. These covert actions can have excessive or unintended consequences.

Ousting Allende turned Chile into a fascist dictatorship that sent assassins far and wide, including Washington, D.C. Ousting Mossadegh in Iran led to the tyranny of the Shah and ultimately to an extreme Islamist backlash. Ousting Arbenz in Guatemala led to the butchery of some 200,000 people and the rise of a narco-state. Such examples can go on and on.

However, these CIA-type techniques can be very seductive, both to U.S. presidents looking for a quick fix to some international problem and to a political party trying to gain a decisive edge for winning. These methods can be especially dangerous when the other side doesn’t organize effectively to counter them.

The hard reality in the United States today is that the Republicans and the Right are now fully organized, armed with a potent propaganda machine and possessing an extraordinary political will. They are well-positioned to roll the U.S. economy off the cliff and blame the catastrophe on Obama.

Indeed, that may be their best hope for winning Election 2012.

via consortiumnews.com

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Alice Walker Stands Up In Support of the Palestinian People in the Gaza

Alice Walker


http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/28/it_takes_people_on_the_outside

All,

As I've said many times it takes genuine courage, vision, and moral independence to lead and it's inspiring to see the legendary author Alice Walker assert real leadership in this struggle and willingly challenge and go up against both the U.S. and Israeli governments alike in the universal name of Justice and Freedom to openly help and support the oppressed people of the Gaza and affirm and uphold the fundamental human and civil rights of the Palestinian people. It's also equally inspiring and far more than a little ironic that the name of the Gazan aid ship that Alice and her fellow "freedom passengers" are sailing on is called "The Audacity of Hope." Let that be an eternal lesson to and glorious rebuke of the failed foreign policies and cowardly actions of the Obama administration in the ongoing historical struggle of the Palestinians for full sovereignty, self determination, and independence in the Middle East.

Kofi



"I am going to Gaza because my government has failed, it has failed us, it has failed to understand or to care about the Gazan people. But worse than that, our government is ignorant of our own history in the United States. For instance, when black people were enslaved for 300 years, it took a lot of people from outside of our communities to come to help free us. And also, during the period of the civil rights movement, which was 19—in the 1960s, again, it took people from outside of our own communities to come and help us free ourselves. This is a fine tradition of going to people who need us wherever they exist on the planet. This is our responsibility. This is what we are here for as human beings...I also feel that when our government, in the person of our president, can make a speech about this area, and really speak only to the Israelis and not to the Palestinians, this is unacceptable. We cannot accept this. I mean, we look at what has happened to the Palestinian people for all of these decades, and it is insufferable. We will not accept it. We will not. As Americans, with our history of enslavement of people, of segregation, of apartheid, of brutalization, of lynching, we will not accept this. We will not. So, Gazans, and especially the children, we are on our way. We are coming. We hear you. We are coming."
--Alice Walker, June 27, 2011

It Takes People on the Outside: Prestigious Author Alice Walker to Confront Israeli Naval Blockade of Gaza on U.S. Aid Ship
June 28, 2011
Democracy Now!

Israel continues to threaten a group of international activists planning to sail to Gaza this week with humanitarian aid. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said participants in the 10-boat flotilla are seeking "confrontation and blood." Last year, Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. Meanwhile, activists say one of the 10 boats scheduled to sail to Gaza has been sabotaged in a Greek port. Saboteurs reportedly cut off the propeller shaft of a ship shared by Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists. Organizers say the boat will be repaired in time to sail to Gaza. One of the other ships that will try to reach Gaza from Greece is the "Audacity of Hope." It’s set to carry up to 50 U.S. citizens carrying letters to Gaza residents. One of the ship’s passengers is the acclaimed author, poet and activist Alice Walker. She has written many books, including “The Color Purple,” for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. On Monday, Alice Walker spoke at a Freedom Flotilla news conference in the Greek capital of Athens. “I am going to Gaza because my government has failed, it has failed us, it has failed to understand or to care about the Gazan people. But worse than that, our government is ignorant of our own history in the United States,” Walker said. “For instance, when black people were enslaved for 300 years, it took a lot of people in the outside of our communities to help free us.”

Filed under Gaza Flotilla, Gaza, Israel & Palestine

Alice Walker, acclaimed author, poet and activist. She has written many books, including The Color Purple, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. She plans to join the U.S.-flagged ship Audacity of Hope in the humanitarian aid flotilla that aims to sail to Gaza this week, despite the Israeli naval blockade.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel continues to threaten a group of international activists planning to sail to Gaza this week with humanitarian aid. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, said participants in the 10-boat flotilla are seeking, quote, "confrontation and blood." Last year Israeli forces killed nine people aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara. One of them was a U.S. citizen.

Meanwhile, activists say one of the 10 boats scheduled to set sail to Gaza has been sabotaged in a Greek port. Saboteurs reportedly cut off the propeller shaft of a ship shared by Swedish, Norwegian and Greek activists. Organizers say the boat will be repaired in time to sail to Gaza.

One of the other ships that will try to reach Gaza from Greece is The Audacity of Hope. It’s set to carry up to 50 U.S. citizens carrying letters to Gaza residents. One of the ship’s passengers is the acclaimed author, the poet, the activist, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Alice Walker. She’s written many books, among them, The Color Purple. On Monday, Alice Walker spoke at a Freedom Flotilla news conference in the Greek capital of Athens.

ALICE WALKER: My name is Alice Walker, and I am with the U.S. boat to Gaza and very happy to be a part of our delegation, which is very soulful and making wonderful sounds. And thank you very much. I am going to Gaza because my government has failed, it has failed us, it has failed to understand or to care about the Gazan people. But worse than that, our government is ignorant of our own history in the United States. For instance, when black people were enslaved for 300 years, it took a lot of people from outside of our communities to come to help free us. And also, during the period of the civil rights movement, which was 19—in the 1960s, again, it took people from outside of our own communities to come and help us free ourselves. This is a fine tradition of going to people who need us wherever they exist on the planet. This is our responsibility. This is what we are here for as human beings.

And so, I just would like to say that we are on our way, that Hillary Clinton may put up all of the protests that she likes, and she may say that we should not travel, that it is dangerous. We know it is dangerous. We know, for instance, that climate change is probably just as dangerous as getting on a boat to Gaza and that people should be paying attention to that, too.

I also feel that when our government, in the person of our president, can make a speech about this area, and really speak only to the Israelis and not to the Palestinians, this is unacceptable. We cannot accept this. I mean, we look at what has happened to the Palestinian people for all of these decades, and it is insufferable. We will not accept it. We will not. As Americans, with our history of enslavement of people, of segregation, of apartheid, of brutalization, of lynching, we will not accept this. We will not.

So, Gazans, and especially the children, we are on our way. We are coming. We hear you. We are coming.

And I look at you in this room, and I realize that this is what—you know, if we have a salvation as human kind, it is in this room. It is the people who have gathered here for what is one of the hardest tasks for us. This situation is one of the hardest on the planet, and it is up to us to try to solve it, to bring some comfort, to bring some light, because, otherwise, what chance do we have with all the other problems? I mean, we now have tornadoes that are a mile wide. There has to be somebody to help take care of things like Gaza, so that we will be strong enough to deal with tornadoes, earthquakes, floods. You know, this is our future. This is our present. This is our future. So, in a sense, if we work on these issues, you know, that we are beginning to see, I mean, we are freeing ourselves of the myths that have crippled us, but we’re beginning to see what is the truth. And if we can see what is the truth about this situation, we will free ourselves to work on the real issue for humanity, which is protecting earth. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, speaking Monday in Athens, Greece, at a Freedom Flotilla news conference. She is part of the delegation, the group of up to 50 passengers who hope to board the ship they have called The Audacity of Hope, named after President Obama’s famous book, the ship that they hope to sail to challenge the Israeli embargo of Gaza.

Matt Taibbi on Michele Bachmann, the Tea Party Movement, and the True Danger of the Far Right in American Politics and Culture

Michele Bachmann
Illustration by Victor Juhasz


http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/michele-bachmanns-holy-war-20110622?page=1


Laura,

This madwoman is the posterchild epitome of the demented religious fascists that you warned me were rampant in the deep reactionary underground of American politics years ago and who has now gone thoroughly 'mainstream' isn't it? Everything about Bachman and her cretinous associates in the Tea Party and the far right evangelical Christian movement reminds me of the ominous rise of the Nazi Party circa 1930 when virtually no one in the Weimar Republic of Germany took Hitler and his deadly gang of maniacal thugs seriously only to wind up with them running the national government just three years later...

Kofi


Michele Bachmann's Holy War
by Matt Taibbi
June 22, 2011
Rolling Stone

The Tea Party contender may seem like a goofball, but be warned: Her presidential campaign is no laughing matter

Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and, as you consider the career and future presidential prospects of an incredible American phenomenon named Michele Bachmann, do one more thing. Don't laugh.

It may be the hardest thing you ever do, for Michele Bachmann is almost certainly the funniest thing that has ever happened to American presidential politics. Fans of obscure 1970s television may remember a short-lived children's show called Far Out Space Nuts, in which a pair of dimwitted NASA repairmen, one of whom is played by Bob (Gilligan) Denver, accidentally send themselves into space by pressing "launch" instead of "lunch" inside a capsule they were fixing at Cape Canaveral. This plot device roughly approximates the political and cultural mechanism that is sending Michele Bachmann hurtling in the direction of the Oval Office.

Bachmann is a religious zealot whose brain is a raging electrical storm of divine visions and paranoid delusions. She believes that the Chinese are plotting to replace the dollar bill, that light bulbs are killing our dogs and cats, and that God personally chose her to become both an IRS attorney who would spend years hounding taxpayers and a raging anti-tax Tea Party crusader against big government. She kicked off her unofficial presidential campaign in New Hampshire, by mistakenly declaring it the birthplace of the American Revolution. "It's your state that fired the shot that was heard around the world!" she gushed. "You are the state of Lexington and Concord, you started the battle for liberty right here in your backyard."

I said lunch, not launch! But don't laugh. Don't do it. And don't look her in the eyes; don't let her smile at you. Michele Bachmann, when she turns her head toward the cameras and brandishes her pearls and her ageless, unblemished neckline and her perfect suburban orthodontics in an attempt to reassure the unbeliever of her non-threateningness, is one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau. She's trying to look like June Cleaver, but she actually looks like the T2 skeleton posing for a passport photo. You will want to laugh, but don't, because the secret of Bachmann's success is that every time you laugh at her, she gets stronger.

In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you've always got a puncher's chance. And Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she's living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she's built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

Bachmann's story, to hear her tell it, is about a suburban homemaker who is chosen by God to become a politician who will restore faith and family values to public life and do battle with secular humanism. But by the time you've finished reviewing her record of lies and embellishments and contradictions, you'll have no idea if she actually believes in her own divine inspiration, or whether it's a big con job. Or maybe both are true — in which case this hard-charging challenger for the GOP nomination is a rare breed of political psychopath, equal parts crazed Divine Wind kamikaze-for-Jesus and calculating, six-faced Machiavellian prevaricator. Whatever she is, she's no joke.

Bachmann was born Michele Amble in Waterloo, Iowa, to a pair of lifelong Democrats, but grew up in tiny Anoka, Minnesota. By her teen years, her parents had divorced; her mother remarried and brought step-siblings into the home, creating a Brady Bunchian group of nine kids. One of Bachmann's step-siblings, Helen LaFave, would later come out as a lesbian, a fact that Michele, who became famous opposing gay marriage, never mentions on the campaign trail. For the most part, though, Bachmann's upbringing seems like pure Americana, a typical Midwestern girl who was "in a couple of beauty pageants" and "not overtly political," according to her stepbrother Michael LaFave.

Young Michele found Jesus at age 16, not long before she went away to Winona State University and met a doltish, like-minded believer named Marcus Bachmann. After finishing college, the two committed young Christians moved to Oklahoma, where Michele entered one of the most ridiculous learning institutions in the Western Hemisphere, a sort of highway rest area with legal accreditation called the O.W. Coburn School of Law; Michele was a member of its inaugural class in 1979.

Originally a division of Oral Roberts University, this august academy, dedicated to the teaching of "the law from a biblical worldview," has gone through no fewer than three names — including the Christian Broadcasting Network School of Law. Those familiar with the darker chapters in George W. Bush's presidency might recognize the school's current name, the Regent University School of Law. Yes, this was the tiny educational outhouse that, despite being the 136th-ranked law school in the country, where 60 percent of graduates flunked the bar, produced a flood of entrants into the Bush Justice Department.

Regent was unabashed in its desire that its graduates enter government and become "change agents" who would help bring the law more in line with "eternal principles of justice," i.e., biblical morality. To that end, Bachmann was mentored by a crackpot Christian extremist professor named John Eidsmoe, a frequent contributor to John Birch Society publications who once opined that he could imagine Jesus carrying an M16 and who spent considerable space in one of his books musing about the feasibility of criminalizing blasphemy.

This background is significant considering Bachmann's leadership role in the Tea Party, a movement ostensibly founded on ideas of limited government. Bachmann says she believes in a limited state, but she was educated in an extremist Christian tradition that rejects the entire notion of a separate, secular legal authority and views earthly law as an instrument for interpreting biblical values. As a legislator, she not only worked to impose a ban on gay marriage, she also endorsed a report that proposed banning anyone who "espoused or supported Shariah law" from immigrating to the U.S. (Bachmann seems so unduly obsessed with Shariah law that, after listening to her frequent pronouncements on the subject, one begins to wonder if her crazed antipathy isn't born of professional jealousy.)

This discrepancy may account for why some Tea Party leaders don't buy Bachmann as a champion of small government. "Michele Bachmann is — what's the old-school term? — a poser," says Chris Littleton, an Ohio Tea Party leader troubled by her support of the Patriot Act and other big-government interventions. "Look at her record and see how 'Tea Party' she really is."

When Bachmann finished her studies in Oklahoma, Marcus instructed her to do her postgraduate work in tax law — a command Michele took as divinely ordained. She would later profess to complete surprise at God's choice for her field of study. "Tax law? I hate taxes," she said. "Why should I go and do something like that?" Still, she sucked it up and did as she was told. "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands."

Moving back to Minnesota, she and Marcus settled in Stillwater, a town of 18,000 near St. Paul, where they raised their five children and took in 23 foster kids. Stillwater is a Midwestern version of a Currier & Ives set piece, complete with cozy homes, antique stores — and no black people. In short, the perfect launching pad for a political career built on Bachmann's retro-Stepford image. Stillwater's congressional district is the whitest district in Minnesota (95 percent) and one of the wealthiest in America (with a median income $16,000 above the national average).

Michele took a job as a tax attorney collecting for the IRS and spent the next four years sucking on the tit of the Internal Revenue Service, which makes her Tea Party-leader hypocrisy quotient about average. (At least she didn't collect more than $250,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2006 — that was her father-in-law.) It was after Bachmann quit the IRS in 1993 that her political career really began; although she had volunteered for Jimmy Carter in her youth and had been an anti-abortion protester, she didn't become a major player in Stillwater until she joined a group of fellow Christian activists to form New Heights, one of the first charter schools in America.

Anyone wanting to understand how President Bachmann might behave should pay close attention to what happened at New Heights. Because the school took government money, like other charter schools, it had to maintain a separation of church and state, and Bachmann was reportedly careful to keep God out of the initial outlines of the school's curriculum. But before long, parents began to complain that Bachmann and her cronies were trying to bombard the students with Christian dogma — advocating the inclusion of something called the "12 Biblical Principles" into the curriculum, pushing the teaching of creationism and banning the showing of the Disney movie Aladdin because it promoted witchcraft.

"One member of Michele's entourage talked about how he had visions, and that God spoke to him directly," recalled Denise Stephens, a parent who was opposed to the religious curriculum at New Heights. "He told us that as Christians we had to lay our lives down for it. I remember getting in the car with my husband afterward and telling him, 'This is a cult.'"

Under pressure from parents, Bachmann resigned from New Heights. But the experience left her with a hang-up about the role of the state in public education. She was soon mobilizing against an educational-standards program called Profile of Learning, an early precursor to No Child Left Behind. Under the program, state educators and local businesses teamed up to craft a curriculum that would help young people prepare for the work force — but Bachmann saw through their devious scheme. "She thought it was a socialist plot to turn our children into little worker-automatons," says Bill Prendergast, a Stillwater resident who wrote for the town's newspaper and has documented every step of Bachmann's career.

The theme of socialists scheming to herd children into a factorylike system of predetermined occupations still comes up often in Bachmann's rhetoric. In a recent speech in Iowa, for instance, she talked wistfully of the early Midwest settled by her Norwegian ancestors, a place where "we can choose whatever profession we want, and no one tells us what profession we go in." Bachmann likewise rejected AmeriCorps as an attempt to build "re-education camps for young people, where young people have to go and get trained in a philosophy that the government puts forward," and blasted a schools program started by Bill Clinton for trying to brainwash kids into accepting "government central planning of our economy and our way of life."

To combat this dark outcome, Bachmann joined up with a Junior Anti-Sex League-type outfit called the Maple River Education Coalition, which was largely composed of Christian conservatives rallying against educational standards. The group met in a church, and its sessions resembled old-time religious revivals, complete with whooping and hollering. "There were enormous amounts of 'amens,'" recalls Mary Cecconi, a Stillwater resident who attended an early meeting of Maple River. "It's like a mission from God with those people." Maple River was so out there that Minnesota's then-governor, Jesse Ventura, no slouch in the batshit-conspiracy department, dismissed the group as nothing but a bunch of people who "think UFOs are landing next month."

Maple River eventually morphed into an organization called EdWatch, which railed against various dystopian indoctrination plans, including the U.N.-inspired International Baccalaureate program, offered in some American high schools. Bachmannites despise IB because its "universal" curriculum refuses to recognize the superiority of Christianity to other religions. You and I might have thought William Butler Yeats, for example, was a great poet who died half a century before the Age of Aquarius, but EdWatch calls him a "New-Age Pantheism Guru" who was aggressively "undermining Christianity."

Bachmann's anti-standards crusade led her to her first political run. In 1999, she joined four other Republicans in Stillwater in an attempt to seize control of the school board. The "Slate of Five" proved unpopular: The GOP candidates finished dead last. Bachmann learned her lesson. "Since then, she has never abdicated control of her campaign or her message to anyone," says Cecconi, who defeated Bachmann in the race — which remains the only election Bachmann has ever lost.

The slate of five had been put together by a local Republican kingpin named Bill Pulkrabek, who this spring was jailed for domestic assault after he allegedly pulled his mistress down a set of stairs by her hair. According to Pulkrabek, Bachmann initially came to him asking for advice on how to defeat Gary Laidig, a moderate Republican state senator, but he advised her to run for the school board first. "We talked about knocking Gary off later," Pulkrabek recalled. And indeed, right after the school-board fiasco, Bachmann decided to take on Laidig.

In her later telling of the story, however, Bachmann substituted a higher authority than Bill Pulkrabek. It was God, she insisted, not a girlfriend-abusing politician, who instructed her to get involved in politics. "As if we didn't have enough to do, He called me to run for the Minnesota State Senate," she said in 2006. "I had no idea, no desire to be in politics. None."

In another version of the story told by Bachmann, she ran against Laidig only because a GOP endorsing convention in April of that year spontaneously selected her, prompting yet another Home Alone extreme-surprise moment. "I came in wearing jeans, a sweatshirt and moccasins, and I had no makeup on at all," she said. "I had made not one phone call, and spent not five cents, and I did not solicit a vote." Laidig, who calls Bachmann a "cold and calculating" person, didn't buy it. "Absolute bullshit," he told reporters. "She planned this all along."

Bachmann's entire political career has followed this exact same pattern of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying. She's not a liar in the traditional way of politicians, who tend to lie dully, usefully and (they hope) believably, often with the aim of courting competing demographics at the same time. That's not what Bachmann's thing is. Bachmann lies because she can't help it, because it's a built-in component of both her genetics and her ideology. She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty.

It has taken just over 10 years for Bachmann to go from small-town PTA maven to serious presidential contender, a testament to both her rare and unerring talent for generating media attention, and to her truly astonishing energy level and narcissistic tenacity. Minnesota politicians who have squared off against Bachmann all speak with a kind of horrified reverence for her martial indomitability, her brilliantly fortifying lack of self-doubt, even the fact that she hasn't appeared to physically age at all in 10 years. "She will not stop," says Cecconi.

Bachmann ended up unseating Laidig — and since then, getting herself elected is pretty much the only thing she has accomplished in politics. That's not an exaggeration: As both a state senator and a congresswoman, Michele Bachmann has never passed a piece of meaningful legislation. Her time in the Minnesota legislature was concentrated in two lengthy and unsuccessful protest campaigns. The first was a jeremiad against school standards, which fizzled out when Ventura's replacement, then-governor and current presidential rival Tim Pawlenty, backed his own version of school standards with the coming of No Child Left Behind. The other was a hysterical campaign against gay marriage that involved some of the strangest behavior ever attributed to an American elected official.

In 2003, after the Massachusetts Supreme Court issued its famous ruling permitting gay marriage, Bachmann proposed an amendment to the Minnesota constitution banning gay marriage — despite the fact that the state legislature had already passed a law making same-sex unions illegal. Even the politicians who were sufficiently gay-phobic to have passed the original anti- marriage law were floored by the brazen pointlessness of Bachmann's bill. "It's unnecessary, it's redundant, it's duplicative," said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ann Rest.

The episode was classic Bachmann, whose political strategy throughout her career has mostly revolved around having her Little House on the Never-Existed Fundamentalist Prairie sensibilities rocked by something she has read (or misread) in the news, then immediately proposing a horseshit, total-waste-of- everybody's-time legislative action in response. In 2009, after she saw a news story about the Chinese calling on the world to abandon the dollar as its reserve currency, Bachmann somehow took this to mean that the Obama administration might force ordinary Americans to abandon their familiar green dollar bills for some international and no doubt atheist currency. To combat this possibility, Bachmann introduced a resolution to "bar the dollar from being replaced by any foreign currency." Even after the gaffe was made public, Bachmann pressed on, challenging Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner to "categorically renounce the United States moving away from the dollar." Imagine Joe McCarthy dragging Cabinet members into hearings and demanding that they publicly disavow the works of Groucho Marx, and you get a rough idea of the general style of Bachmannian politics.

Bachmann's anti-gay crusade in Minnesota was born of similar stuff. Right from the start, she made sure that everyone knew the awesome importance of the task she was taking on, trying to outlaw an already outlawed practice. "This is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in, at least, the last 30 years," she said. She called gay marriage an "earthquake issue," insisting that failure to pass her proposal would mean that "sex curriculum would essentially be taught by the gay community" and that "little K-12 children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal, natural, and perhaps they should try it." Much as Sarah Palin's actual speeches sometimes melt indistinguishably into Tina Fey's SNL parodies, Bachmann's anti-gay rhetoric at times features a campy, over-the-top quality that makes it hard to tell her apart from a tranny cabaret act. She described the gay lifestyle as "bondage" and "personal enslavement," even claiming that suicide among gay teens is due not to discrimination but to "the fact of what they're doing."

Bachmann's obsession with gay culture led her to bizarre behavioral extremes. In April 2005, after the State Senate refused to even vote on her constitutional amendment, she hid in the bushes outside the State Capitol during a gay-rights rally. A photo shows Bachmann, only the top of her Stepford head visible, crouched alone in an extreme catcher's squat behind the Capitol shrubbery. She later insisted she wasn't hiding at all, but resting because her heels hurt.

That same year tensions between Bachmann and some gay activists grew heated during a town-hall meeting she attended. Depending on whom you believe — and by that I mean which of Bachmann's own competing versions of the story you believe — Bachmann either left the meeting to avoid the activists, or excused herself to "use the restroom" only to be "held against her will" there by what may or may not have been a pair of angry lesbians. She reported the incident to the Washington County sheriff: "Sen. Bachman [sic] stated that when she was trying to leave, 2 women blocked her in and told her they wanted to continue talking. Sen. Bachman stated she was afraid and screamed for help. The 2 women let her leave the restroom when she screamed."

Images of Michele Bachmann squatting behind a bush or hiding from lesbians in a bathroom would seem to be punch lines of funny stories, but they are not. The real punch line is that rather than destroying her politically, these incidents helped propel her into Congress. In her first two races, in 2006 and 2008, she defeated experienced, credible opponents who failed to realize what they were dealing with until it was too late. Her 2006 win was an especially extraordinary testament to her electoral viability. In a terrible year for conservatives, with the death-spiraling Bush administration taking Republican seats down with them all over the country, Bachmann won a fairly independent district by an eight-point margin. In her runs for Congress, Bachmann discovered — or perhaps it is more accurate to say we all discovered — that a total absence of legislative accomplishment and a complete inability to tell the truth or even to identify objective reality are no longer hindrances to higher office.

Emboldened by the lack of consequences for her early freakouts, Bachmann's self-mythologizing became more and more overt. In October 2006, she stepped before a packed house at the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and told her life story. All of history's great madmen have had that one gorgeous moment where the cackling hairy hunchback that has been gestating within for years finally comes out and shows itself, strutting up and down the catwalk for the world to see. This was Michele's catwalk moment, a lengthy autobiographical speech in which she claimed "callings" from God had pushed her to every major decision in her life — from studying tax law to running for Congress. She even told the congregation that she and hubby Marcus — who by then had opened a Christian counseling center — had been united not by love but by a unique series of divine visions experienced by three people simultaneously.

Bachmann claimed that back in her college days, she was up one night praying with a female friend of hers when "the Lord gave each one of us the same, exact vision... It was a picture of me, marrying this man, in the valley where his parents have a farm in western Wisconsin." Meanwhile, miles away, Marcus "was repairing a fence on the farm where he worked, and the Lord showed him in a vision that he was supposed to marry me." According to Bachmann, Marcus initially complained to God that he wanted to see the world first, and only later relented.

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.

Bachmann is the champion of those tens of millions of Americans who have read and enjoyed the Left Behind books, the apocalyptic works of Christian fiction that posit an elaborate fantasy in which all the true believers are whisked off to heaven with a puff of smoke at the outset of Armageddon. Here on Earth, meanwhile, the guilty are bent to the will of a marauding Satan who appears at first in the guise of a smooth-talking, handsome, educated, pro-government, superficially pacifist, internationalist politician named Nicolae Carpathia — basically, Barack Obama. Bachmann has ties to the Left Behind crowd and has even said that Beverly LaHaye, wife of LB co-author and fundamentalist godfather Tim LaHaye, was her inspiration for entering politics.

As Bachmann has told and retold her story as one of divine inspiration, she has recast her biography in ever more grandiose directions. A great example is the issue of her "28 children." Bachmann has five kids and, something even her most withering critic should acknowledge, has cared for 23 foster kids. But in 2008 — 10 years after any of her foster children had been in her home — Bachmann was talking as though she was still dashing home from Congress to cook for them. "Every weekend now when I go home, I will go to the grocery store, I'll buy food for the family," she said. "We have five kids and 23 foster kids that we raise. So I go to the grocery store and buy a lot of food."

It is difficult to tell whether this sort of thing is delusion, artifice or both. "I think Michele honestly believes whatever she says in the moment," says Cecconi.

It was the same in October 2008, when Bachmann went on Hardball With Chris Matthews and effectively accused both her fellow members of Congress and soon-to-be-president Barack Obama of being witches who should be thrown in a lake to see if they sank from lack of patriotism. "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?" she said. "I think people would love to see an exposé like that." When the comment sparked a furious controversy, Bachmann responded by blaming Matthews, insisting that "I did not suggest the word 'anti-American.'" She wasn't mad that she was misquoted — she was furious because her views had been conveyed accurately, in a live television interview.

"There's always this mechanism available to Bachmann," says Elwyn Tinklenberg, the Democrat she defeated in the congressional election that fall. "No matter what they say, there is this attitude that 'these poor Christians are being picked on.'" Cecconi agrees, saying that Bachmann has discovered her blunders only serve to underscore her martyrdom. "I've seen her parlay that into 'Look how downtrodden I am,'" she says. "It works for her."

Given how Bachmann's stature rises every time she does something we laugh at, it's no wonder she's set her strangely unfocused eyes on the White House. Since arriving in Congress, she has been a human tabloid-copy machine, spouting one copy-worthy lunacy after another. She launched a fierce campaign against compact fluorescent lights, claiming that the energy-saving bulbs contain mercury and pose a "very real threat to children, disabled people, pets, senior citizens." She blasted the 2010 census as a government plot and told people not to comply because the U.S. Constitution doesn't require citizens to participate, when in fact it does. She told her constituents to be "armed and dangerous" in their resistance to cap-and-trade limits on climate-warming pollution. She insisted that Obama's trip to India cost taxpayers $200 million a day, and claimed that Nancy Pelosi had spent $100,000 on booze on state-paid flights aboard military jets.

This is not to say that Bachmann hasn't played a prominent role in Congress. Most significantly, she cannily positioned herself as the congressional champion of the Tea Party; last summer she formed a Tea Party caucus, which she now leads. The public has become acquainted with some of Bachmann's other excellent qualities as a politician — her TV-ready looks, her easy confidence in public speaking, her quick command of a mountainous database of (frequently bogus) facts — but often overlooked is her greatest quality, the gigantic set of burnished titanium Terminator-testicles swinging under her skirt.

While other Republicans floundered in the wreckage of the post-Bush era, Bachmann boldly presented herself as an unfazed, unbowed answer to Obama, leading the GOP charge to overturn the president's two signature legislative efforts, the health care bill and Wall Street reform. That she hasn't actually succeeded is beside the point; at a time when other Republicans seem weighed down by the party's recent failures, Bachmann has pressed on like she isn't even aware of them — which, of course, is a distinct possibility.

At the republican debate at St. Anselm College in New Hampshire on June 13th, which marked the unofficial beginning of the GOP presidential race, Bachmann wiped the floor with the other candidates — admittedly not a terribly difficult thing to do, given that this may be the sorriest group of presidential hopefuls ever assembled. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty looked like a bunch of rumpled businessmen in a subway car watching an old lady get mugged, each waiting for the other to do something about it. Bachmann, by contrast, radiated confidence and energy — prompting Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein to wonder if he had been right when he half-jokingly suggested that "Michele Bachmann is the candidate Sarah Palin was supposed to be."

Here's the difference between Bachmann and Palin: While Palin is clearly bored by the dreary, laborious aspects of campaigning and seems far more interested in gobbling up the ancillary benefits of reality-show celebrity, Bachmann is ruthlessly goal-oriented, a relentless worker who has the attention span to stay on message at all times. With a little imagination, you can even see a clear path for her to the nomination. Though she outraged Des Moines Republicans by blowing off a party dinner in late May, she had already visited the state four times this year and scored key endorsements there. Obamacare progenitor Mitt Romney has already half-conceded Iowa by dropping out of the straw poll there, leaving fellow Minnesotan Tim Pawlenty as Bachmann's main competition for the first big prize of the race.

Pawlenty and Bachmann have tangled for years over a variety of issues ranging from school standards to health care to a cigarette tax. Pawlenty reportedly views Bachmann's decision to jump in and spoil his long-planned assault on the presidency as the equivalent to her having crouched over and peed in his Cheerios. Asked about Bachmann's run, Pawlenty seethed, "I'm not running for comic- or entertainer-in-chief."

Even other Republicans, it seems, are making the mistake of laughing at Bachmann. But consider this possibility: She wins Iowa, then swallows the Tea Party and Christian vote whole for the next 30 or 40 primaries while Romney and Pawlenty battle fiercely over who is the more "viable" boring-white-guy candidate. Then Wall Street blows up again — and it's Barack Obama and a soaring unemployment rate versus a white, God-fearing mother of 28 from the heartland.

It could happen. Michele Bachmann has found the flaw in the American Death Star. She is a television camera's dream, a threat to do or say something insane at any time, the ultimate reality-show protagonist. She has brilliantly piloted a media system that is incapable of averting its eyes from a story, riding that attention to an easy conquest of an overeducated cultural elite from both parties that is far too full of itself to understand the price of its contemptuous laughter. All of those people out there aren't voting for Michele Bachmann. They're voting against us. And to them, it turns out, we suck enough to make anyone a contender.


Related: Matt Taibbi's 'The Truth About the Tea Party'
Take the Bachmann-Palin Challenge: Can You Tell Them Apart?
Videos: Michele Bachmann's Craziest Moments

This story is from Rolling Stone issue 1134/1135, available on newsstands and through Rolling Stone All Access on June 24, 2011.