Facts aren’t Michele Bachmann’s strong suit. The Minnesota congresswoman turned Republican presidential candidate is more than adept at fear-mongering, but when it comes to fact, figures, places, names, and dates, she has proven deficient. She is constantly tripping over her own tongue in attempts to showcase her patriotism.
Her latest gaffe came in the process of trying to clean up another gaffe. Appearing with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Bachmann continued to support her claim that the founding fathers “worked tirelessly to end slavery” and justified this by using John Quincy Adams, who was 9 years old at the time of the Revolutionary War, as an example.
WATCH BACHMANN’S SLAVERY GAFFE DEFENSE HERE:
Bachmann’s less than stellar grasp of history isn’t likely to lose her support from her Tea Party base. She appeals to a decidedly anti-intellectual segment of the population. She and her ilk pride themselves on not being “elitist” and shunning “East coast liberals” and Ivy Leaguers, choosing instead to operate on blind devotion to vaguely defined “traditional” American values.
But what Bachmann’s historically inaccurate gaffe reveals, aside from her own lack of intellectual curiosity, is the failure of the American public to have a true and honest discussion about its history, particularly surrounding slavery.
It’s still the biggest stain on America’s record. Slavery itself and the legacy of racism, violence, rape, economic exploitation, and human degradation it left behind run counter to the image this country would like to project. As such, it’s place in the American narrative is minimized as much as possible, escaping public discourse even when historically and socially relevant to the understanding of current conditions. We develop cultural amnesia, choosing to forget, re-imagine, or otherwise neglect any unpleasantness from our past, especially around issues involving race, no matter how instrumental shaping our identity, in the name of “growth” and “reconciliation.”
This brings us to the point where Texas eliminates any allusions to slavery from the history books and the word “ni**er” is taken out of classic literature. Instead of confronting and learning from the vile atrocities of our conflicted past, we would rather ignore them out of existence. If there were no consequences to this practice, it might be able to fly. However, what ends up happening is politically charged moments like this Bachmann gaffe become complicated with mangled history and appropriation of an oppressed people’s struggle in inaccurate and self-serving ways. It’s the same danger we see when someone like Rush Limbaugh draws erroneous comparisons between President Obama and Adolf Hitler. The gravity of Hitler’s reign of terror is lost when used to amplify what amounts to a minor ideological difference of opinion.
When the facts surrounding slavery are dismissed and allowed to be changed to suit the mission of the messenger, it leads to offhand comments by professional athletes comparing their profession to the institution of slavery, without taking into account the stark differences, or references to corporate workplaces as plantations without a proper juxtaposition.
I don’t believe slavery analogies should be taken completely off the table, as there can be instances where they are apropos, but the fact that we have failed to properly engage the facts of American slavery and provide context makes it so that too often we are making analogies that are more incendiary than helpful. If we were to increase our knowledge and understanding of the period, the practice, and the ramifications, we would choose our words more wisely and recognize the implications inherent in such comparisons.
Not to mention, it’s dually insensitive to the millions of people across the globe still enslaved that we who live in relative comfort to diminish their struggle because of our temporary inconveniences.
And politicians like Bachmann would have to face greater consequences from more than just a George Stephanopoulos when they make such glaring errors with regards to the basic history of the country they claim to love so dearly. An informed electorate is crucial to accountability.
Until we reach a point where we have exhibited the courage to truly confront our history, or unless one is able to adequately explain and provide evidence for it, it may be best for us to table any large national discussions on slavery. We have to have a conversation about slavery before we can have a conversation about slavery.