Okay, we’ve all known for a while now that Michele Bachmann has no place anywhere outside of a sanitarium, much less the House of Representatives. So it comes as no surprise that she recently said she became a Republican because of a “‘snotty” Gore Vidal novel. But it’s worse than that.
First, the book in question is Burr, which in point of fact is a truly excellent novel — maybe the best historical novel I’ve ever read. When I was in graduate school, the professor assigned Burr as reading in his class on the early national period: he cautioned us that it is, well, a novel, but it really reflects the political culture and issues of the period. (This was before the appearance of, say, Elkins’ and McKitrick’s The Age of Federalism, Ellis’ Founding Brothers, or Freeman’s Affairs of Honor, all of which I highly recommend.). If you are going to determine your political allegiance based upon a bad book, I’d suggest, oh, any of these. Bachmann’s statement seems to me similar to saying, “I decided that I hated literature after reading Moby Dick and To the Lighthouse.”
But it’s worse than that. Burr is a superb novel because it brilliantly makes it clear that the Framers were, above all, politicians — incredibly smart, far-reaching, and patriotic politicians, but politicians nonetheless. They weren’t gods. They were upright, principled, intelligent, committed — and vain, venal, deceitful, and power-hungry. And the Constitution did not come directly from God, but rather from a series of carefully crafted — and often sloppily thrown-together — political compromises. which referred directly to the issues of the day with little reference to ours. Put another way, it provides context for understanding the republican experiment. That’s why it is such a richly rewarding read.
Little wonder, then, that Tea Partiers like Bachmann hate it so much. They desperately want a group of heroes who always provide simple, clear answers for complicated problems that just so happen to align perfectly with their own preferences. Burr makes it clear that that never was what the Constitution was about. Bachmann says that Burr “mocked the Founding Fathers”. It doesn’t do anything of the kind: it just explains that they were real people.
So it’s not just the case that Bachmann hates Burr. She hates the Constitution, too. Back to the sanitarium with her.