In June 2010 Paul McCartney was awarded the US Library of Congress Gershwin Prize, and to celebrate the award was invited to sing in the White House. As part of the concert he sang the Beatles’ song ‘Michelle’, in the presence of Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle. McCartney quipped that he might return regularly to the venue. Speaking for myself, if he were to do that and give the song another outing, I only hope that its addressee would still be Michelle Obama, and not another Michele [sic] currently hoping to make it into the White House: the extraordinary (and I don’t particularly mean that in the good sense) Michele Bachmann.
If you have no idea whom I am talking about, you may need to take a moment to acquaint yourself with her. Michele Bachmann is Congresswoman for Minnesota, currently serving her second term. On her website she presents herself as ‘a principled reformer who stays true to her conservative beliefs while pushing for real reform of the broken ways of Washington’. Others may see her just a little differently: she is often seen as bizarrely rightwing, and somewhat confused in relation to the US history she likes to cite. Among the political positions she has adopted are phasing out social security and considering a nuclear strike on Iran. She wants the United States not to be ‘part of the global economy’ (whatever that means).
Anyway, this wonderful cocktail of half-baked lunacies may be about to launch itself as a presidential manifesto. Bachmann is apparently contemplating setting up an exploratory committee, the first step towards a potential White House bid. And if you tend to raise your eyebrows at the thought of Sarah Palin as American President, she would be a model of moderate reasonableness and cerebral intelligence next to Bachmann.
There may be something more profound for us to come to grips with here, however, and it is not necessarily just an American phenomenon. There is a tendency right now for the political right – that is, the ‘respectable’ right outside of the overtly racist and xenophobic brigade – to reinvent itself in political terms that owe nothing to the global post-War political market economy consensus. And that may be something to worry about.
For now, whether it is Bachmann or indeed Palin, I doubt that this sort of message will find a majority in the electorate. In fact, before it gets traction in a bigger way it probably needs a rather more intelligent advocate. But it does have support, and we may need to engage with a political spectrum that is changing dramatically, and in very strange ways.
But in the meantime, I hope that Paul McCartney returns to the White House to serenade Michelle Obama in three years or so.