Want to do something scary? Type in "Is Michele Bachmann crazy?" on Google and stand back.
The results for the Minnesota Congresswoman - who won what is known as the Republican straw poll last weekend in Iowa, and is now improbably, one of three top-tier candidates for the GOP presidential nomination - are eye-opening to say the least.
There's Fox News's Chris Wallace asking the 55-year-old glamorous dynamo if she is a "flake" and then having to apologize for it; there's a Newsweek cover photo of her with the cover line "The Queen of Rage" that makes her eyes look so glassily intense that editor-in-chief Tina Brown had to subsequently defend it by releasing other similar photos from the shoot; there's left-wing magazine Mother Jones calling her "crazy like a fox"; and there's Rolling Stone 's Matt Taibbi, who was obviously hiding under the bedclothes when he wrote last June: "Michele Bachmann, when she turns her head toward the cameras and brandishes her pearls and her ageless, unblemished neckline and her perfect suburban orthodontics in an attempt to reassure the unbeliever of her non-threateningness, is one of the scariest sights in the entire American cultural tableau."
What's going on here? Even in the height of alarm over the scant higher office qualifications of former female GOP superstar Sarah Palin, we haven't seen characterizations quite like this. Are they sexist? Alarmist? Or are they based on legitimate concerns?
I'll get to the crazy-word as it applies to ambitious middle-aged women in a minute, but first let me say that the obvious alarm among moderates is that Michele Bachmann, an emissary from the Christian-conservative movement who was one of the first elected officials to embrace Tea Party politics (otherwise known as Teavangelicals), is this year's newer, stronger and much more focused iteration of Sarah Palin. That makes her even more dangerous: she's whip-smart, good-looking (trust me, it matters) and fully locked and loaded with a passel of outrageous ideas that it's hard to believe anyone with an ounce of sense would countenance, let alone vote for.
Forget predictable feminist consternation over a right-wing female politician who is fervently pro-life and anti-gay marriage, even one who once declared it was her duty to be "a submissive wife" to her therapist husband Marcus, whose counselling practice apparently includes homosexual "conversion" theory. Even feminists have to gamely accept that some successful women will think it's cute, as Ms. Bachmann, a former tax attorney does, to call her campaign plane "the Barbie jet," and walk down the aisles with a wicker basket handing out candy and hand sanitizer. (I have to admit the latter is a nice, not to mention practical touch.)
But Ms. Bachmann, introducer of the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act (I am not making this up), also thinks global warming is a hoax and carbon dioxide is a "harmless gas," has suggested that eliminating the minimum wage would "virtually wipe out unemployment," wants intelligent design to be taught in schools, and unfortunately went public with the belief that the Chinese were plotting the downfall of the U.S. dollar. She has also publicly espoused obscure religious fringe leaders and thinkers, one of whom, as a recent piece in the New Yorker documents, wrote that among Christians, American slavery encouraged "mutual respect" and another of whom advocated violently overthrowing the government if the abortion law Roe v. Wade was not reversed.
On the campaign trail, Ms. Bachmann is prone to making misleading statements that are instantly proven to be false, as well as making gaffes on a Herculean scale – confusing the birthplace of John Wayne with that of mass murderer John Wayne Gacy, giving a Happy Birthday shout-out to Elvis on the anniversary of his death.
And yet. If you had tuned in to the American political talk-show circuit last Sunday, you would have been puzzled: Here was a well-spoken woman dressed in a crisp white shirt and pearls, talking persuasively about her "core principles" and about how "people all across the country have been trying to get the attention of Washington." No one was calling her a flake on Sunday. Michele Bachmann had become plausible.
Her message clearly resonates with voters who don't care about or haven't yet examined her philosophical underpinnings, and who think most politicians are full of B.S. anyway. She is offering them a simplistic (no tax increase) way out of their economic pain, and she is charismatic. What more do they need?
Comedian Tina Fey (oh please come back and "do" Michele Bachmann!) has a passage in her best-seller Bossypants about how women are labelled "crazy after a certain age." She quotes various male producers, agents and writers reacting to her suggestion to hire certain women: "I hear she's pretty batshit" is the typical response.
Calling Michele Bachmann crazy may be satisfying but it is a waste of time. (Especially now that her most formidable new opponent, Texas Governor Rick Perry, a man who carries a gun while jogging and who just this week suggested that if the Fed printed more money it would be an act of "treason," might also be labelled crazy.)
There are lots of other adjectives out there for Michele Bachmann: narrow-minded, shallow, ill-equipped, extremist, ignorant, well-intentioned but misinformed, glib, even dangerous. Call me crazy, but I think, along with a relentless look at what she really believes and how she came to believe it, they will eventually do the trick.
Editor's Note: The original article incorrectly identified Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi. This version has been corrected.