Michele Bachmann gives me a headache.
But it's not the congresswoman herself who is to blame for the pain. It's so many of the stories about her.
We're still months away from the first caucus or primary of the presidential nominating season, and already things have gotten way out of control. Accusations that Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann is heavily medicated on account of incapacitating headaches were just the latest attempts to nip her candidacy in the bud. A former aide insisted: "The migraines are so bad and so intense, she carries and takes all sorts of pills. Prevention pills. Pills during the migraine. Pills after the migraine, to keep them under control. She has to take these pills wherever she goes."
So Bachmann released a doctor's note -- after at least one other rival openly legitimized the issue. She gets migraines but has "normal" brain scans, the House of Representatives' attending physician wrote. "It has not been necessary for (her) to take daily scheduled medications to manage this condition."
At least the alleged pain-and-pill problem was an improvement over the previous accusation: that her husband, Marcus, must be a closeted gay man. The evidence stemmed from advice that the counseling clinic he runs supposedly doles out -- to help people with homosexual desires resist acting on them. "Pray the gay away," was how many media outlets explained it. Marcus Bachmann's denial that his clinic practices this controversial therapy inspired little but yawns from some who had already made up their minds about him. He must be gay: Besides the undercover work into the clinic's counseling, haven't you heard the way he talks? Haven't you seen the way he dances?
"He appears to be a lying closet case," sex columnist Dan Savage insisted.
And it was far from just Savage, who has gained a name for himself by sabotaging Google search results on former senator and current Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum, making the attacks. It has been open season on the spouse of the Minnesota congresswoman. "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart explained that Bachmann "dances and sounds not only gay, but center-square gay."
Slate writer William Saletan commented: "There's nothing new about calling somebody gay based on a lisp or a girlish gait. We all saw, did, or suffered it in grade school. What's unusual is seeing grown-up gays and liberals do it in 2011 with such open ridicule." And when covering campaigns, they even come armed with studies on "gaydar." Savage seeks to justify it, insisting that the sexual outing is what people want. He says Bachmann has "made convincing other gay people to join him in the closet his life's work. And straight people don't like being lied to. Not anymore."
It's a curious thing that at a time when tolerance is supposedly all the rage, a man who chooses not to act on particular urges would be anything but tolerable. How strange, how perverse: to embrace a standard and seek to live by it.
But even this insinuation game --- the subject of entire segments of supposed political news shows --- would prove to be welcome compared to the dreams of violent sex with Rep. Bachmann that comedian Marc Maron aired on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher." Also on the panel, Savage said he wishes to engage in the same with Rick Santorum.
In a tweet, Saletan hit at the ridiculousness that lies at the heart of this kind of playground politics: "Fake problem: What Michele Bachmann would do as president when she has a headache. Real problem: What she'd do as president when she doesn't."
The problem is that not only is this beneath us and our politics -- it's also a huge distraction. But by all means, bask in distraction if you're looking to make Rep. Bachmann a force to be reckoned with, one way or another. Those who want to take Bachmann out as a candidate via all this trash talking might want to consider what out-of-control, below-the-belt attacks perceived as sexism have done to create a phenomenon of Sarah Palin, now the subject of a major documentary, which might just be in your local theater.
That which doesn't kill a candidate may make her stronger, however deep in mud she finds herself.
Beyond the repulsive nature of such talk and whisper campaigns presented as legitimate news stories and campaign issues, opponents hoping to benefit from lowbrow politics ought to be careful: There are actual policy issues to discuss, as the country faces defaulting on its loans to China, to begin with the most obvious. Throw in a war or two if you wanted to begin to consider issues that voters might possibly want to hear a thing or two about from a potential president of the United States.
This is your democracy. Pass the Advil. And insist on something more. We haven't got time for the pain.
Kathryn Lopez is the editor of National Review Online (www.nationalreview.com). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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