Bachmann’s gay finesse

    Even zealots can straddle like politicians. Case in point, Michele Bachmann.The newest entrant in the Republican presidential sweepstakes is routinely feted on the right for her bold certitudes – which is one big reason why she has already soared to the top tier in Iowa – but, judging by her appearance yesterday on Fox News, she’s also quite capable of talking out of both sides of her mouth.When asked to comment on the New York legislature’s historic decision on Friday night to legalize gay marriage, Bachmann declared – at first – that she had no problems with the whole business, because, after all, tea-party conservatives like her are strong adherents to the principle of state’s rights.In her words, “Under the 10th Amendment, the states have the right to set the laws that they want to set…That is up to the people of New York…It’s a state law. And the 10th Amendment reserves for the states that right.”Very sensible indeed. Clearly Bachmann realizes that if she wants to play in the big leagues, she’ll need to show swing voters that she isn’t out there on the fringe. National polls continue to show steadily increasing support for gay marriage – 53 percent of Americans said Yes to gay marriage in the May Gallup poll, the first time Gallup’s majority barrier has ever been broken; and in April,  a record 55 percent of independents said Yes to gay marriage in a CNN/ORC poll – so, at minimum, her state’s rights talk is a conspicuous nod toward tolerance. To prove that she’s ready for prime time, she knows that she needs to sand down the rough edges.The hitch, however, is that while Bachmann is a tea-party conservative on the separation of powers, she’s also a religious conservative who vaulted to prominence in part by demagoguing gay people. The evangelical right has long adored her penchant for rhetorical bigotry – like the time she warned that gay marriage would lead to the indoctrination of schoolchildren; and the time she said that gay people lead “a very sad life, it’s part of Satan”; and the time she suggested that it would be wise to warn kids that the music for The Lion King was written by a gay man; and the time she discussed Melissa Etheridge’s breast cancer diagnosis in this manner: “This may be an opportunity for her now to be open to some spiritual things, now that she is suffering from that physical disease. She is a lesbian.”Therefore, Bachmann yesterday couldn’t simply insist that the elected lawmakers of New York have the right to define marriage as they please. She had no choice but to contradict herself – by also insisting that, whereas New Yorkers could indeed govern themselves in accordance with state’s rights, it was also imperative that the federal government trump the New Yorkers, and invade everybody’s bedrooms, by enacting a one-size-fits-all constitutional amendment that would codify marriage as a bond between one man and one woman. Because at least on this issue, evangelical conservatives (who will vote heavily in the Iowa caucuses) couldn’t give a hoot about the conservative principle of state’s rights.And so, on Fox News, she stressed her support for an anti-gay federal constitutional amendment that would trump New York’s support for gay marriage. She also insisted that her position(s) are “entirely consistent.”As she explained it, “states have, under the 10th Amendment, the right to pass any law they like. Also, federal officials at the federal level have the right to also put forth a constitutional amendment.”Host Chris Wallace sought clarification: “Do you want to say it’s a state issue and that states should be able to decide? Or would you like to see a constitutional amendment so that it’s banned everywhere?”Bachmann: “It is – it is both. It is a state issue and it’s a federal issue. It’s important for your viewers to know that federal law will trump state law on this issue.”So there it was, a little something for everybody. Bachmann hews to her convictions about state’s rights and local control and government that’s closest to the people, even when a state chooses to enact socially tolerant legislation – while insisting that such local initiatives might ultimately be swept away, many years down the road, by a federal crusade that would ideally codify conservative, out-of-the-mainstream morality for all 50 states.Is that clear to you? It certainly wasn’t clear to Chris Wallace. At one point he told her, “I’m confused by your position on this.”Understandably so. He was talking to a slippery politician, someone who was trying to wink at the sentiments of the tolerant American mainstream while heaving sufficient red meat to her true believers. In all likelihood, Michele Bachmann will be able to finesse this straddle in Iowa and South Carolina (where right-wing voters will hear what they want to hear), but in the end she is too much of a niche candidate for the long haul.

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