Newsweek’s Cover: Not Sexist, Just a Slap

The cover of this week’s Newsweek features Michele Bachmann. As many observers noted, it is not a flattering photo. Anyone old enough to have seen the movie Hot Resort, starring a very young Johnny Depp, will recal a minor character who is in thrall to some Maharishi figure. The expression she wears when venerating his image is the same look Bachmann wears — that is, exalted, credulous and completely out to lunch.

Was it nice of Newsweek to depict the GOP’s front-runner looking her like this? No. Should Bachmann and her supporters cancel their subscriptions? If any subscribe to Newsweek, no one would blame them for stopping now. So much for common ground. The question now under debate is, was this a sexist move on the editors’ part?

In Slate, Jessica Grose says yes: “I hate it when Michele Bachmann makes me defend her, but I’m with [Dana Loesch on this one: The Newsweek cover was unnecessarily unflattering. I doubt Newsweek would portray a male candidate with such a lunatic expression on his face. As much as it pains me to admit it Bachmann is a legitimate candidate and major magazines should treat her like one.”

Myself, I’m inclined to disagree. The intention wasn’t to make Bachmann look ugly, on the cynical assumption that she owes her appeal to her looks. It was to make her look crazy, specifically, crazy in the manner of a fanatic.

As I wrote a few weeks earlier, Bachmann’s media enemies took a long time to get an accurate read on her weaknesses, having been spoiled by the combative, mercurial Sarah Palin. The strategy that has emerged since then: paint her like a nice Midwesterner who just happens to be a frothing ideologue. For some, this has meant hitting her right in the church. In the New Yorker, Ryan Lizza writes of Bachmann’s attachment to the theology of Francis Schaeffer:

Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”

In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed. In his movie, Schaeffer warned that America’s descent into tyranny would not look like Hitler’s or Stalin’s; it would probably be guided stealthily, by “a manipulative, authoritarian élite.”

The Newsweek article doesn’t go there (although it does mention in passing that Bachmann addresses crowds with “the earnestness of a preacher”).Instead, it seeks to depict her as “the living embodiment of the Tea Party,” in particular, its fiscal conservatism:

At a time of population growth, increasing health-care costs, swelling ranks of retirees, and a sharp and prolonged economic slump—all of which point to the need for increases in federal spending just to meet government’s existing obligations—Bachmann and her Tea Party allies demand that Washington spend less. But they don’t just demand that spending increase less from year to year than previously planned; that’s what Congress and the president agreed to in the deal that ended the debt standoff, to the tune of $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years (albeit followed by a downgrade four days later). Rather, Bachmann and the Tea Party go much further, insisting that the federal government actually shrink over time, spending less money from year to year as its commitments grow.

That means, of course, that its commitments would have to shrivel as well. In the Tea Party’s ideal vision of America, large federal agencies and federal programs would be dismantled and the savings redirected to states with block grants and individuals through lower taxes. Whether that would leave people at the mercy of the freewheeling (and often treacherous) marketplace remains an open and untested question.

In other words, that look you see in Bachmann’s eyes? That’s the look of a government dismantler right there.

Bachmann’s already shown an uncanny knack for not sweating the small stuff. If I were in her shoes, I’d cite A First-Rate Madness, the book in which Tufts University professor Nasser Ghaemi describes how various celebrated world leaders, including FDR and Churchill, were a few cups short of a tea set. “If I’m crazy, I’m in good company” is a slogan to run on.

  • Anonymous

    “In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.”

    Which just goes to show they haven’t read the book and for whom Frankie Schaeffer’s portrayal of his father (to say that Schaeffer’s son has a chip on his shoulder against his evangelical parents would be an understatement).

    If you want to explore what Francis Schaeffer REALLY said in his Christian Manifesto about the “violent overthrow” of the government, see the following analysis:

  • kenneth

    Yes, it’s all Newsweek’s fault that she comes off like an extremist loon. Her long record of espousing extremist beliefs has nothing to do with it… This is someone who expresses deep agreement with a dominionist Christian agenda which is so extreme that it is not hyperbole at all to compare with the Taliban. They don’t simply want to dismantle separation of church and state, but the very notion of pluralism itself.

    They state very clearly that their vision of governance would treat non-Christians as hostile foreigners in their own country. This is someone who allies herself with six-day creationism, which is nothing less than an embrace of willful medieval ignorance. As a fiscal conservative, she proposes to go far, far beyond “shrinking government.” Her agenda seeks to virtually eliminate all federal enforcement of environmental laws and regulation of industry, basically turning back the clock to the 1870s. There would be no meaningful controls whatsoever on air or water pollution or workplace safety.

    This is Sarah Palin all over again. In Palin’s case, it was always the “liberal media” to blame when Palin consistently revealed herself as a buffoon. Bachmann, by constrast, is no fool, but she is extreme. She very openly advocates philosophies and policies which are extreme by any reasonable measure against the mainstream of the last century plus. For all their professed love of the “free marketplace of ideas,” the Teavangelicals don’t fare too well in it. Bachmann is putting her ideas out there, as it should be. Most of those ideas strike most of us as crazy, but her supporters can’t seem to accept the verdict of the marketplace. They insist that their candidate doesn’t really mean what she says, it’s all a conspiracy by sexist liberal magazine editors….

  • Mei

    Give me a break Kenneth. The morally-liberal media will tear anyone apart who upholds pro-life values or any manner of morality! They destroyed Palin’s reputation long before she made any disapproving statements merely because she did not support the pro-gay, pro-abortion agenda on the liberal side. I disagree with Republicans and Tea party members on fiscal issues but I DO support their conservative moral values. The Democrats USED to be moral but now they represent the face of the “wolf in disguise”. The only good thing they do is try to help the poor and honestly, that isn’t enough when in comparison to the intentional killing of thousands upon thousands of babies and the growing dishonor towards elderly and disabled.

  • Mei

    I say judge Bachmann by her actions. If she is a practicing Christian, she will uphold traditional marriage, protect the unborn, elderly and disabled. So far I’ve read that she does those things.

    I might disagree with her fiscally if she follows Republican behaviors in supporting big business while stepping on the poor but I will vote for her as long as she works towards the basic foundations of morality. If you support the basic foundation of morality: the future children aka babies of America and the moral position of marriage for a man and woman only… then the rest (helping the poor and holding the big spending corporations to shame for outsourcing and getting tax breaks) WILL follow.

  • Mei

    I should add, the Newsweek cover is not flattering and the title makes it worse. It is obvious, Newsweek is not supporting her with that sort of cover. Those responsible should be ashamed of themselves. I’m certain no one who was responsible would want the same done to them.

  • Strophios

    How can you say that? A cursory glance at the Republican Party will show you very clearly that it is, in point of fact, incredibly unlikely that “the rest [...] WILL follow.”

    Also, since when is “helping the poor” part of “the rest” and not a “basic foundation of morality”?