Hard on the heels of the gun carnage in Colorado, Tuesday, July 24th, was itself a pissy news day.
First, Little Mittie donned his mean suit, got up on his hind legs at the VFW Convention, and postured and ranted and raved in his strident voice and re-imagined himself a great warrior. (Does this sound familiar? Have we been in this movie before, a malleable invertebrate presidential aspirant with no combat experience—in Mittie’s case, no prior military service at all—fantasizing himself as Dwight Eisenhower? God help us, another nascent “war president”?)
Of course, the target of Mittie’s attack was President Obama—also a non-vet, but never one given to act as if he were leading the Normandy Invasion, even when deciding who to send his drones out to kill—whom he castigated as “weak on defense” and committing irreparable damage to the greatest agency for good the world has ever known (also reminiscent of the last Republican pipsqueak to contaminate the Oval Office, who once said “‘Merica always does the raat [translation: right] thing,” which made me wonder, “Mr. President, in that very expensive education your fabulously wealthy and connected family bought for you at Yale, did you not even once hear about slavery?”)
Furthermore, candidate Romney asserted, channeling Dick Cheney and puffing up his chest like a bantam rooster, the President’s foreign policy is a “disaster” and his administration can’t keep a secret. In a cesspool of hypocrisy, I thought this pronouncement particularly preposterous, given that even the militant G.W. Bush administration, with all of its bluster and intelligence resources, couldn’t find and eliminate Osama bin Laden—or didn’t want to (9/11 conspiracy theorists take note). Even columnist David Brooks, admittedly the kind of moderate, even respectful, conservative you’d like to have a beer with, has complimented Obama on the intelligence and effectiveness of his—and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s—foreign policy.
Concerning the alleged porosity of the Obama administration, Mittie (whose prior professional and political life is cloaked in layers of secrecy and who continues to balk at revealing his tax returns from more than three years back) fumed that Americans were “entitled” to know the dark and nefarious doings of this corrupt and godless cabal and promised that after he’s elected (perish the thought) there would be a full “accounting of the facts. * .” The absurdity of these assertions is further revealed by the fact that one of Romney’s principal advisers was implicated in outing former CIA operative Valerie Plame during the Dubya administration. They oughta’ call it the Grand Old Hypocrisy Party.
Next came the report from Pennsylvania, state of my birth where I spent my first 23 years, that Republicans in the legislature had pushed through the most stringent voter fraud law in the U.S. Targeted at 750,000 minority voters who could make the difference for Obama in what is predicted to be another close election, this initiative is all the more mean-spirited in light of the fact that the Pennsylvania Electoral Commission has yet to discover even one case of electoral fraud in the state. How far will the right wingers go to compromise the democracy they unashamedly vaunt as superior to any other on the planet? Emboldened by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, we’re beginning to see how blatantly beyond fairness and decency they are willing to go. Score one for the oligarchs. As I’ve joked to my friends out here, Pennsylvania is a good state to be from—and after this shift toward authentic repression, as far from as possible, say about 3,000 miles.
If this weren’t enough, I made the mistake of reading Frank Bruni’s New York Times column, “The Devine Miss M”, about Michele Bachmann’s recent paeans to homophobia, fear-mongering, and divisiveness. Noting how Bachmann casts herself as a “godly woman, humbly devoted to her Christian faith,” Bruni ponders the exact nature of the Congresswoman’s religious sect. I might help him out here by suggesting the Church of Hate, since the propagation of hatred seems to constitute mostly what Rep. Bachmann is about.
Her latest McCarthyesque excursion into viciousness involves a mission to destroy the public service career of Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary of State Clinton, whom Bachmann is convinced may be leading the advance troops of radical Islam in an invasion of the Federal government. You see, Ms. Abedin is a Muslim. So sure is Bachmann that Abedin represents a threat to all that is American and righteous, she has organized a lynching party that includes four other Republican lawmakers who jointly have composed and sent a letter to federal intelligence agencies claiming Abedin is a security risk because she allegedly has ties to the Muslin Brotherhood. (And of course, she works for Clinton—who in turn, serves the Black Man in the White House with the middle name Hussein—which makes her doubly suspicious.)
Likewise, Rep. Bachmann’s homophobia appears to know no bounds. She harps that gays are deviant, godless, and “dysfunctional” and implies that they deserve any misfortune that befalls them. Columnist Bruni cites a Bachmann attack several years ago against composer Melissa Etheridge, suffering from breast cancer at the time, and quotes the Congresswoman thus: “This may be an opportunity for [Etheridge] now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering with that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”
In her celebration of ignorance, Bachmann doesn’t confine her vitriol to just minorities and gays but has extended it to, believe it or not, the pursuit of science, declaring war on “liberal” scientists whose research supports global warming and climate change, all of which she has pronounced a “hoax”. What legitimate climate researchers like NASA’s Jim Hansen would have to gain by propagating bogus science is anyone’s guess, but Bachmann and her ilk seem to believe that highly educated people dedicated to uncovering the great truths of nature and the universe are not to be trusted any more than Muslims in the service of the government. (Maybe Al Gore has something to do with it.) A friend who has dedicated her life to early childhood education terms this anti-intellectual attitude “the second burning of the Library at Alexandria”—and I seem to remember that the first one was torched by early Christian zealots, an act that the late Carl Sagan maintained set the human race back a thousand years. How far does Bachmann want to retract human evolution, I wonder? Oh, wait, she doesn’t believe in evolution, either….
Paraphrasing the ineffable Samuel Johnson in this context, I believe it could be said that organized religion—or at least the sordid faith of Michele Bachmann—is the last refuge of small-minded people of little consequence (Johnson said “patriotism” and “scoundrels,” which works, too). As Bruni puts it, “Bachmann’s concept of Christian love brims with hate, and she has a deep satchel of stones to throw. From what kind of messiah did she learn that?”
And to cap off the bad news day, Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer at age 61. America’s first woman astronaut to fly in space, Ride—who held a PhD in physics—crewed on the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia in, respectively, 1983 and -84. As an aviator (now an aging “stick”) and advocate for space exploration, Ride was one of my heroes. Those of us who felt the endeavor should be open to anyone of either sex or any race qualified to engage in it (I wasn’t) were so proud of her, the contributions she made, and the poise with which she carried it off. She symbolized the best that the space program and its scientific questing—and America—had to offer.
So while we watched from the safety of the ground, Sally rode those perilous Roman candles out of the gravity well and engaged in real science a hundred miles above the earth. Even my mother, a prisoner of both her times and German Lutheranism, who longed to be a free spirit and lived vicariously through the son who became one, watched the Challenger launch while quipping “Ride, Sally, ride!”, no doubt imagining she was in the crew module beside her. In spirit, like women everywhere—except in Michelle Bachmann’s superstitious and exclusionary little world—Mom was.
When she left the space program, Dr. Ride continued her work as a physicist at Stanford, devoted the rest of her life to encouraging girls to pursue careers in science, and served on the investigation boards for the Challenger and Columbia accidents alongside the likes of Nobel laureate Richard Feynman and other former astronauts. We call this public service.
Oh, and Ms. Bachmann? Sally Ride was also the first lesbian in space.
The Occasional Curmudgeon is Berkeley writer David Esler.