Michele Bachmann’s Homophobia: Is it Reaction Formation?

Michele Bachmann and family

A couple of days ago, I read a fascinating piece about Michele Bachmann by The Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. It’s a real eye-opener, and the information in it spurred me on a voyage of discovery across the internet as I tried to understand what happened to this woman to cause her to embrace her bizarre religious beliefs and her extreme right-wing political ideology. For the purposes of this post, I want to focus primarily on Bachmann’s homophobia.

Goldberg begins her article with a particularly vivid episode from Bachmann’s tenure in the Minnesota state senate:

In April 2005, Pamela Arnold wanted to talk to her state senator, Michele Bachmann, who was then running for Congress. A 46-year-old who worked at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Arnold lived with her partner, the famed Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, on a farm in Scandia, Minnesota. Bachmann was then leading the fight against gay marriage in the state. She’d recently been in the news for hiding in the bushes to observe a gay rights rally at the Capitol. So when members of the Scandia gay community decided to attend one of Bachmann’s constituent forums, Arnold, wanting to make herself visible to her representative, joined them.

A few dozen people showed up at the town hall for the April 9 event, and Bachmann greeted them warmly. But when, during the question and answer session, the topic turned to gay marriage, Bachmann ended the meeting 20 minutes early and rushed to the bathroom. Hoping to speak to her, Arnold and another middle-aged woman, a former nun, followed her. As Bachmann washed her hands and Arnold looked on, the ex-nun tried to talk to her about theology. Suddenly, after less than a minute, Bachmann let out a shriek. “Help!” she screamed. “Help! I’m being held against my will!”

Arnold, who is just over 5 feet tall, was stunned, and hurried to open the door. Bachmann bolted out and fled, crying, to an SUV outside. Then she called the police, saying, according to the police report, that she was “absolutely terrified and has never been that terrorized before as she had no idea what those two women were going to do to her.” The Washington County attorney, however, declined to press charges, writing in a memo, “It seems clear from the statements given by both women that they simply wanted to discuss certain issues further with Ms. Bachmann.”

Bachmann’s anxiety at being confronted by three lesbians was so extreme that instead of either responding to their questions or politely excusing herself and calmly walking away, she screamed, cried, and called the police!

Now let’s look at the previous episode when Bachmann was photographed hiding behind bushes to covertly watch a gay rights rally. The context was that Bachmann had just left the State Senate after proposing a bill to ban gay marriage in Minnesota.

“The state Senate on Thursday rejected an effort to force a floor vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage as thousands of ban opponents rallied outside the Capitol. Sen. Michele Bachmann, the Stillwater Republican who’s led the push for the ban, said Senate Democrats have denied her repeated efforts to get the bill heard. Senate leaders countered that Bachmann, a candidate for the U.S. House, is flouting Senate rules to advance her own political career. At the same time, about 2,500 gays, lesbians and their supporters attended a rally on the Capitol grounds just a few hundred yards away, organized by OutFront Minnesota.” [Star Tribune]

After the move didn’t pan out, Michele took to hiding in the bushes to watch the queers rally

Another story reports that during the hearing 100 of the rally participants

…filed inside the Capitol building and took their place in the Senate gallery overlooking the proceedings. With a crowd on hand, Bachmann issued a motion to bypass the committee and have the floor vote on the bill right then and there–a highly unusual move in state Senate proceedings. Even more bizarre: While making her case, she addressed not the Senate floor as per protocol, but the gallery above.

In my opinion, these out-of-proportion reactions suggest that Bachmann’s extreme homophobia is a cover for deep fears that she has about herself or people close to her. I believe she is unconsciously engaging in the defense mechanism of reaction formation to deal with this anxiety.

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Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m teaching a Psychology of Personality course this semester, and yesterday I started lecturing about Freud and psychoanalytic theory. I was explaining Freud’s notion of the three parts of the personality–the id, the ego, and the superego. You’re probably familiar with those terms, but basically the id is there when we are born–it is completely self-centered, doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality, all it cares about is pleasure. It wants what it wants when it wants it. Sometime during infancy, we develop an ego that gets the id under some control, and around age 4-6 we develop a superego–basically like a conscience, that tells us which behaviors are right or wrong or socially acceptable.

Anyway, after class I was thinking about Muammar Gaddafi and his bizarre behavior–the way he has insisted for weeks that there is no opposition and that he isn’t attacking Libyan citizens. No, he would never do that. It occurred to me that Gaddafi is pretty much acting from his id all the time. Of course his ego keeps him somewhat connected to reality so he can function in the world, but mostly he just cares about his own needs.

I wonder if that is what happens to all leaders who gain absolute control. Does the quote “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” really mean that power causes people to regress to an earlier stage of development?

It sounds peculiar, but think about how powerful people get so many of their needs met by others. Obama doesn’t have to worry about paying for things, getting food or clothing, even getting information. It is all provided by other people. In many ways, it’s a kind of childlike, dependent state. So if the leader doesn’t have a strong character (ego), he can end up behaving in a narcissistic, childlike way.

OK, well that’s my not-very-deep thought for today.

So what’s happening in the news? As has often been the case in recent weeks, much of the big news is coming from outside the U.S.

On Libya, there has been more criticism of the UN resolution and how it is being carried out. I posted quite a few examples of the criticism in my post last night. Most of the objections are based on the fact that Libya is not at all important to the U.S. strategically.

Today I want to recommend a couple of articles that explain why the intervention in Libya, while troubling in many ways, was probably the right thing to do–even for U.S. interests. The first is by Mark Lynch at the Foreign Policy blog. Lynch uses the name “abuardvark” on twitter. His post is headlined Libya in its Arab Context Although Lynch has misgivings about the intervention and has written about them, he still thinks what the U.S. is doing is the right thing–both for the Arab world and for advancing our interests. Here’s his basic argument:

Libya matters to the United States not for its oil or intrinsic importance, but because it has been a key part of the rapidly evolving transformation of the Arab world. For Arab protestors and regimes alike, Gaddafi’s bloody response to the emerging Libyan protest movement had become a litmus test for the future of the Arab revolution. If Gaddafi succeeded in snuffing out the challenge by force without a meaningful response from the United States, Europe and the international community then that would have been interpreted as a green light for all other leaders to employ similar tactics. The strong international response, first with the tough targeted sanctions package brokered by the United States at the United Nations and now with the military intervention, has the potential to restrain those regimes from unleashing the hounds of war and to encourage the energized citizenry of the region to redouble their efforts to bring about change. This regional context may not be enough to justify the Libya intervention, but I believe it is essential for understanding the logic and stakes of the intervention by the U.S. and its allies.

Libya’s degeneration from protest movement into civil war has been at the center of the Arab public sphere for the last month. It is not an invention of the Obama administration, David Cameron or Nicholas Sarkozy. Al-Jazeera has been covering events in Libya extremely closely, even before it tragically lost one of its veteran cameramen to Qaddafi’s forces, and has placed it at the center of the evolving narrative of Arab uprisings. Over the last month I have heard personally or read comments from an enormous number of Arab activists and protest organizers and intellectuals from across the region that events in Libya would directly affect their own willingness to challenge their regimes. The centrality of Libya to the Arab transformation undermines arguments that Libya is not particularly important to the U.S. (it is, because it affects the entire region) or that Libya doesn’t matter more than, say, Cote D’Ivoire (which is also horrible but lacks the broader regional impact).

Lynch is still worried about what could go wrong:

I continue to have many, many reservations about the military intervention, especially about the risk that it will degenerate into an extended civil war which will require troops regardless of promises made today. But as I noted on Twitter over the weekend, for all those reservations I keep remembering how I felt at the world’s and America’s failure in Bosnia and Rwanda. And I can’t ignore the powerful place which Libya occupies in the emerging Arab transformations, and how the outcome there could shape the region’s future. Failure to act would have damned Obama in the eyes of the emerging empowered Arab public, would have emboldened brutality across the region, and would have left Qaddafi in place to wreak great harm. I would have preferred a non-military response — as, I am quite sure, the Obama administration would have preferred. But Qaddafi’s military advances and the failure of the sanctions to split his regime left Obama and his allies with few choices. The intervention did not come out of nowhere. It came out of an intense international focus on the Arab transformations and a conviction that what happens now could shape the region for decades.

At CNN, Peter Bergen tries to explain Why Libya 2011 is not Iraq 2003 I recommend checking it out.

Another article worth reading is by Robert Fisk at The Independent: Right across the Arab world, freedom is now a prospect

In the Middle East, Yemen may be close to ousting President Ali Abdullah Saleh. From the Guardian:

A military showdown is looming in Yemen after the defence minister announced that the army would defend the president against any “coup against democracy”. His statement came hours after 12 military commanders, including a senior general, defected from the regime and promised to protect anti-government protesters in the capital, Sana’a.

[....]

Yemen’s president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, suffered a significant blow when General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, his longtime confidant and head of the Yemeni army in the north-west, announced that he would support “the peaceful revolution” by sending soldiers under his command to protect the thousands gathered in the capital to demand that Saleh step down.

“According to what I’m feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution,” Ali Mohsen said.

Minutes after his defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by Ahmed Ali, the president’s son, rolled into the streets of Sana’a, setting the stage for a confrontation between defectors and loyalists.

At Bloomberg: U.S. Faces Loss of Key Ally Against Al-Qaeda in Yemen

…Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh appears unlikely to weather a popular uprising and defections among his ruling elite, former U.S. officials said.

“It’s clear at this point that Saleh will have to step down,” Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, said in an interview yesterday. With the “mounting numbers of senior people in his administration resigning, we know it’s over. The terms of his departure, I think, are still being negotiated.”

The March 18 killing of at least 46 protesters allegedly by police and pro-regime gunmen — which drew condemnation from Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and prompted the defection of key military, tribal and government officials — may well be the tipping point.

Protests are continuing to escalate in Syria as well.

In Deraa, hundreds of black-uniformed security forces wielding AK-47 assault rifles lined the streets but did not confront thousands of mourners who marched at the funeral of 23-year-old Raed al-Kerad, a protester killed in Deraa.

“God, Syria, freedom. The people want the overthrow of corruption,” they chanted. The slogan is a play on the words “the people want the overthrow of the regime,” the rallying cry of revolutions that overthrew the veteran rulers of Tunisia and Egypt.

Security forces opened fire last Friday on civilians taking part in a peaceful protest in Deraa to demand the release of 15 children detained for writing protest graffiti.

Authorities released the children on Monday in a sign they were hoping to defuse tension in the border town, which witnessed more protests after Friday’s crackdown.

And there is a lot happening in Bahrain too. This article is worth a read: Libya burns but Bahrain can shake the world

While the world attention remains glued to the fires in Libya potential stakes in Bahrain are actually a hundred times higher. Safaniya Oil Field, the largest oil field in the world, is less than 200 miles from Manama. The Strait of Hormuz, through which passes 20 percent of world oil shipments and 40 percent of the world’s sea-borne oil shipments, is within a 400-mile radius.

More importantly, United States Fifth Fleet, with a forward deployed Carrier Strike Group, Combat Command force, Anti-Terrorism force, Sea Stallion helicopters, Amphibious Force and Patrol and Reconnaissance Force, is headquartered at Naval Support Activity Bahrain (or NSA Bahrain). In essence, Bahrain is home to America’s military might that reigns over the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and the Arabian Sea-all put together.

On March 14, around 2,000 soldiers of the Saudi-led, US-backed Peninsula Shield Force, in their armored carriers and tanks, invaded Bahrain. The stated purpose of the invasion is: to crush an unarmed civilian uprising.

On March 15, King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa of Mamlakat al Bahrayn declared martial law under which the Bahrain Defence Force (BDF), numbering around 10,000 personnel, was “empowered to take whatever actions it deems appropriate in dealing with the predominately Shiite-driven unrest.”

I recommend clicking on the link and reading the rest to learn how Iran could get involved in the Bahrain conflict. Yikes!

In Japan workers are still trying to get the Fukushima nuclear plant under control. We keep hearing that things are improving, but it’s kind of hard for me to trust what I hear from governments and corporations these days. After Iraq, Katrina, the BP oil spill, and on and on, I honestly believe just about everyone in government and private business lies their asses off. The biggest fear at the moment is the radiation that is turning up in food and water. Of course the authorities claim that’s nothing to worry about, but why should we believe them?

Away from the plant, mounting evidence of radiation in vegetables, water and milk stirred concerns among Japanese and abroad despite assurances from Japanese officials that the levels were not dangerous.

TEPCO said radiation was found in the Pacific ocean nearby , not surprising given rain and the hosing of reactors with seawater. Some experts said it was unclear where the used seawater was ultimately being disposed.

Radioactive iodine in the sea samples was 126.7 times the allowed limit, while cesium was 24.8 times over, Kyodo said. That still posed no immediate danger, TEPCO said.

“It would have to be drunk for a whole year in order to accumulate to one millisievert,” a TEPCO official said, referring to the standard radiation measurement unit. People are generally exposed to about 1 to 10 millisieverts each year from background radiation caused by substances in the air and soil.

Whatever. I wouldn’t want to drink from the tap or swim in the radioactive ocean water.

Back in the USA, Wisconsin Asks Appeals Court to Block Order Halting Union Bargaining Law

Wisconsin’s attorney general asked an appeals court to block a state judge’s order that temporarily halted a law curbing government employee unions’ collective- bargaining power.

State Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today also asked the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for permission to file an appeal seeking to overturn the ruling by Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi.

“Contrary to established case law, the trial court injected itself into the legislative process and enjoined a legislative act,” Van Hollen said in court papers filed today in Madison. “There is absolutely no authority for the broad, overreaching step taken.”

Sumi on March 18 granted a temporary restraining order blocking publication of the measure signed into law by Governor Scott Walker on March 11, after a hearing in Madison, the state’s capital city. Publication gives the law full force and effect.

I’ll end on a lighter note. If you’re as old as I am, you might remember a guy named Owsley “Bear” Stanley: “the Sixties hero who ‘turned on’ a generation.” Stanley died a few days ago in a car crash at the age of 76.

Stanley, who died in a car crash in Australia on Sunday, fuelled the “flower power” counter-culture that took root in California in the mid-1960s, supplying it with acid that he manufactured after stumbling across a recipe in a chemistry journal.

He also worked with the psychedelic rock band Grateful Dead, who wrote their song “Alice D Millionaire” about him after a newspaper described him as an “LSD millionaire”. One batch of his drugs reputedly inspired Jimi Hendrix’s song “Purple Haze”, and he provided LSD for the notorious “Acid Test” parties hosted by the American writer Ken Kesey, which featured in books by Tom Wolfe and Hunter S Thompson.

News of Stanley’s death – his car swerved off a road and slammed into a tree near his home in north Queensland – elicited tributes, but also surprise. Despite a youth so misspent that his name became slang for good acid, Stanley had made it to the age of 76. He was even a great-grandfather. In a statement yesterday, his family mourned him as “our beloved patriarch”.

Supposedly, a batch of Owsley’s acid inspired Jimi Hendrix’s first big hit, Purple Haze. Rest in peace, Owsley. I am one “casualty” of the ’60s who did learn something significant from my experiences with LSD. One thing I eventually learned is that I don’t need drugs to “get high.”

I guess that’s another not-so-deep thought, but hey, I’m OK with that. What are you reading and blogging about today?