That anybody else, let alone thousands of Republican voters, could consider her viable is quite another thing, and a disquieting one. Take Gail Moore of Columbia, S.C., who told a McClatchy reporter that Bachmann is “Sarah Palin with a brain.” She’s more like Sarah Palin with a resume. Bachmann made her bones in abortion clinic protests and charter school creation and established her Tea Party cred by establishing a Tea Party caucus in the House of Representatives. She plows a rich field of populism, the one that addresses the emotional needs of the pathologically nervous, and the fact that she’s a gold star doofus is not at all a negative trait. As the sentient Matt Taibbi observes, “In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you’ve always got a puncher’s chance.”
It is tempting to fret about our political future when we see people like Michelle Bachmann being taken seriously. After all, God told her to run; what if God instructs her not to take “No” for an answer from the American people?
As always, we are comforted in our prospects by a reconsideration of our past. The Founding Fathers had no easy time with all this founding. Besides their personal shortcomings (Alexander Hamilton was a smuggler and an adulterer, John Hancock was a lush, Benjamin Rush thought slaves could be cured of being black), they engaged in an immense amount of interpersonal transactions—politics, if you will—in the lengthy process of devising our system of government.
On the Fourth of July, if we ponder the subject at all, we tend to reduce the nation’s creation to the iconic signing of its formative documents, as though a bunch of guys dropped by Independence Hall on a holiday weekend to put their signatures on some boilerplate contracts.
In fact, there were dozens of declarations of independence from Great Britain authored throughout the 13 colonies before Tom Jefferson even picked up a quill to write his version.
The wrangling that ensued between April 1775 and July 1776 could fill a book, or a hundred. Some delegates weren’t anxious to aggravate King George, and the debates ranged from rancorous to nitpicking. While speeches droned on, a committee to write an official declaration was empaneled and gave Jefferson the job of penning the first draft. By the time the Continental Congress got through with it, about one-fourth of the future President’s prose had been deleted, but luckily, not the stirring stuff.
As an augury of government work to come, the Declaration they’d gone to so much trouble to ratify by July 4 likely wasn’t even signed until August 2, which meant mad King George wasn’t even notified how mad his subjects overseas were until 16 months after the Revolution had begun.
It’s just as well. I don’t think I could wait another month for a day off.
The Fourth of July just has a good ring to it.
Positioned just after astronomical summer begins, it’s become the middle of secular summer, for those with a school calendar to consider. It’ll be a hot day, but, probably because of that global climate change Mrs. Bachmann and her buds don’t believe in, it’ll seem positively brisk by the time humid August doldrums arrive.
It’s a fine day to contemplate Jefferson’s notion that we are endowed by a Creator with inalienable rights, even as ordinary men and women seek to restrict those rights. There’ll be many a fine speech by politicians on the Fourth extolling freedom, but one should remember all those other speeches in the halls of Congress and our state capitals by some of those very same politicians, defending the renewal of the Patriot Act or advocating the restriction of legal reproductive rights or extolling wars superfluous to our national security. Sometimes the speaker shouting loudest of liberty is the one who doesn’t trust you to have any.
In our sleepy national mood, it is unlikely that many of us will spend the Fourth, as John Adams hoped we might, solemnizing the occasion “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations.” It’s just a little too torrid for Pomp, and it’s hard to get everybody together this time of year to rehearse a Shew.
However, if by Illuminations you mean fireworks, and I think Mr. Adams did, count me in. The first Fourth of July fireworks were shot off in Philadelphia in 1777, where they could easily have been mistaken for a British attack, and, save a certain Jimmy Cagney movie, they remain my favorite commemoration of the occasion.
Birmingham is fortunate to have a reliable source of holiday munitions. Long before Thunder on the Mountain and corporate sponsorships, everyone just knew to find a spot in view of Vulcan around sunset on the Fourth, at which time the sky would be filled for a half-hour or so with colorful shells and rockets, launched at intervals between a barrage of aerial bombs.
It will be so again this year, and we are glad.
It’s not just the fireworks, spectacular though they are, but the fact that an entire city can still turn out to share a few minutes together in a common experience. We might not agree on the rhetoric of a Bachmann or Obama, but for one half-hour on one special day, we can all find delight in the sublime display of a Double Break Sky Warrior or a Gold Split Comet Shell.
Courtney Haden is a Birmingham Weekly columnist. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org.