Posted tagged ‘Alexander Hamilton’

I’ll Take You Up On That, Rep. (sic!) Bachman: Anti-America Members of Congress Edition

October 18, 2008

We learn that one of the leading contenders for the title of Worst Member of Congress ™, Michelle Bachmann brayed trumpeted (elephant, not donkey, get it? — ed.) last night on Hardball that

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?

OK.  Not only are you a disaster of a representative on all the major issues of the day, Rep. Bachmann, you are also Anti American.*

Who says so?  Why me, of course, a card-carrying (at least when I remember to pay my dues to organizations like the National Association of Science Writers) member of the media.

But lest it be said that my modest career as a science writer has little to do with the kind of penetrating analysis Rep. Bachmann asserts is needed to purify the halls of Congress, I’m going to call on some help from the Original Bloggers:  the men behind the pseudonym Publius, whose connection to this only seemingly brand new form is recognized, inter alia, by their eponymous heir over at Obsidian Wings.

This Publius was the collective identity of the three men who wrote the Federalist Papers, a collection of 77 essays that were published in three  New York newspapers between October 27, 1787 and April 2 1788.  (Eight were subsequently added to the published book-form edition of the papersYou can find the complete text here.)

That rate of publication works out to about one new essay every two days, an extraordinary output, designed to achieve an end familiar to many bloggers.  As Garry Wills notes via Wikipedia:  the pace of production “overwhelmed” any possible response: “Who, given ample time could have answered such a battery of arguments? And no time was given.”

As an aside:  isn’t that the basic aim of netroots blogging?  As the man says, “Is there any thing whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us.” Lest any of us get cocky about the quality or quantity of our blog’s discourse, it’s always useful to check back on what “Publius” — Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay — managed to do in their five months of sustained, intense public persuasion.

So what would those ur-bloggers have to say about the anti-American quality of Michelle Bachmann.  Let’s take a look first at one of Madison’s entries:

It is a misfortune, inseparable from human affairs, that public measures are rarely investigated with that spirit of moderation which is essential to a just estimate of their real tendency to advance or obstruct the public good; and that this spirit is more apt to be diminished than promoted, by those occasions which require an unusual exercise of it.  (Federalist 37)

Well, I’d say Bachmann is a type specimin of the pathology against which Madison warns.  He argues throughout this particular essay that the peculiar measure of the quality of the proposed Constitution which these papers are attempting to defend is that the convention that created it was essentiallly free of “the pestilential influence of party animosities the disease most incident to deliberative bodies.”

Madison details the competing interests and the risk of faction overwhelming the common goal and then comes, mostly implicitly, to the claim that the reason such destructive tendencies did not derail the convention was that the  disperate tendencies represented at the Constitutional Convention were capable of accepting that people and positions they deeply opposed were nonetheless legitimate, articulating points of view that had to be engaged and understood.

Does Bachmann, has Bachmann ever met such a standard?

More directly on point, either Alexander Hamilton or James Mdison wrote later in the series of the essential meaninglessness of the terms “Anti-” or “Pro-American.”  In Federalist 57, he argued that the only way the American Republic could function was if all American voters had equal authority within the system of election, appointment and service that constituted the new government.  Any attempt to create a hierarchy of more or less approved participants would, as “Publius” argued in several essays, result in the devolution of the American experiment to the failures of British or Dutch partial republicanism — or worse.  No, said Publius:

Who are to be the electors of the federal representatives? Not the rich, more than the poor; not the learned, more than the ignorant; not the haughty heirs of distinguished names, more than the humble sons of obscurity and unpropitious fortune. The electors are to be the great body of the people of the United States. They are to be the same who exercise the right in every State of electing the corresponding branch of the legislature of the State. ¶

Who are to be the objects of popular choice? Every citizen whose merit may recommend him to the esteem and confidence of his country. No qualification of wealth, of birth, of religious faith, or of civil profession is permitted to fetter the judgement or disappoint the inclination of the people. (Federalist 57)

Shorter form:  Bachmann — Fail.

This is all a penetrating glimpse of the obvious, of course .  Reduce Bachmann’s flow of bile to its essential kernel of political “argument” and what you get is a defense of the tyranny of a self-selected “authentic” in-group at the expense of everyone else.  Publius knew better.  We do too.

If there is anyone in the public arena who is genuinely destructive of the foundations of American liberty and polity as the founders and our tradition understands them, it Michele Bachmann.

And of course, it isnot just that hopefully soon-to-be-retired member of Congress; it is all those who are now trying as hard as they can to win the upcoming election by any means necessary, including a vicious, indecent [follow this link, if you only chase down one] attempt to paint their opponents as not-quite-human invaders of a mythical “real America.”

If we want to live in the country that we once understood we had inherited from originals like Publius, we’ve got some heavy lifting to do over the next two and a half weeks.

*Writing this I remembered the old joke:  A man walks into a psychiatrist’s office and says he’s been feeling at odds with himself.  He asks the doctor to give him a pschological evaluation.  The doctor tells the man to sit down, and they talk.  The psychiatrist listens for a while, takes his notes, asks some questions, and then throws his pen down.

“I’ve come to my diagnosis,” he says.

“Great,” his patient answers. “What is it?”

“You’re crazy.”

The man jumps.  His face turns red.  He sputters and shouts that the doc can’t just say that, that isn’t good enough, who the hell does he think he is anyway.  “That’s not good enough,” he says.  “I want a second opinion.”

“O.k.,” the psychiatrist responds.  “You’re ugly too.”

(Rimshot please.)

Image:  John Trumbell, “Portrait of Alexander Hamilton,” 1806.  Source Wikimedia Commons.