Monday, February 21, 2011

Michele Bachmann, the First Lady, Breast Milk, and Much Ado About Nothing

It makes for a very intriguing headline: could some political spat somehow realign self-identified liberals with Michele Bachmann, and conservatives with Michelle Obama?

At first, while glancing at the NYT headline, "A Breast Feeding Plan Mixes Partisan Reactions," I thought that perhaps the moon was indeed in the Seventh House, and Jupiter had aligned with Mars.

But as much as NYT and some other outlets would like to have you believe that we've reached the Age Of Aquarius, I'm thinking more that we've reached the Age of Same-Old, Same-Old, with a page from the Mountains Out Of Molehills playbook.

To recount the mini-saga, last week Representative Bachmann fired a broadside at the First Lady during an interview with radio host Laura Ingraham for "the government's role in breastfeeding," as Ingraham's website proudly chirps. Ms. Obama has been promoting breastfeeding for almost a year now, from what I can find on the website, but Bachmann was reacting to the latest news that the IRS had announced that breast pumps, which can cost up to several hundred dollars, would be available for a tax break. Bachmann first complained about the tax break--something very un-Republican like--by complaining that "government is the answer to everything." She then added, "to think that government has to go out and buy my breast pump—you want to talk about nanny state, I think we just got a new definition,” in classically Bachmannian rhetoric which is either exasperatingly stupid or chillingly cynical, since a tax break in no way implies that the government is going to purchase breast pumps for the mothers of America.

[That's my emphasis, by the way. Also, I have been unable to find the link to the actual IRS announcement, though many outlets report on it, as TIME does here, or ABC News does here--the ABC News link is dead.Typing in "breast pumps" into the IRS search engine turns up nothing, and searching on "breasts" does turn up a lengthy document released in August, though I could find no breast pump references while perusing it. Nor could I find a press release on tax breaks for devices designed for the liberation of boob juice. Needless to say, I am having an enormous amount of fun tonight.]

Anyway, the story received attention from media outlets in search of culture-war fodder or some such, and lots of outlets, even including ones across the Pond, ran with it. Which, no doubt, is precisely what Representative Bachmann had hoped for, even if the attack made no real sense: she's in the headlines. Maybe this is part of a coordinated effort to put her name in the mix for the 2012 Republican Presidential primaries, and chip into the Republican/conservative gal-appeal of Sarah Palin, who, perhaps sensing a missed opportunity, got in a shot in at the First Lady in a speech in Long Island.

Who knows? Who cares? But the Times article tried a new slant: the reactions from party loyalists were flipped. "On blogs and in interviews, some liberal Democrats found themselves agreeing with Representative Bachmann...some conservatives, meanwhile, stood up for Mrs. Obama for promoting what they said was a healthier choice," the Times reporter, Kate Zernike, observed.

Which is technically correct, as the article goes on to quote some self-described liberals siding with the utter nonsense of Ms. Bachmann, and conservatives siding with Ms. Obama. But as numbers go--and after a not-exhaustive and not-scientific but well-intentioned reading of comments at the soft-left Times, the soft-right WaPo, the harder-left Salon and a few other places to boot--I found no evidence of massive political realignment.  I found a small number of comments from self-described conservatives supporting the First Lady, a good many more criticizing her, and more than half of those totally missing the point...but no comments from liberals defending Bachmann.

(As a side note, I read the Salon comments with a certain horror--the comments section has become a den of lefty sleaze. On many topics I am of one mind with Salon's editorial staff, and I share in their righteous fury at the various injustices of the world, but reading the comments section of pretty much any Salon political article these days is chilling. Civility is considered quaint as commenters attempt to outvulgarize each other, and the menacing allusions to violence would make you think you had just walked into a Tea Party rally. It's disturbing.)

I was feeling quite proud of this analysis until I discovered this article from HuffPo that explains how Zernike used one anonymous commenter, and a second equally anonymous "progressive mother in Brooklynite" as a source to gin up what amounts to a fake article. NYT should be a bit embarrassed; if it isn't Billy is on their behalf.

PS--The Billy Rubin Blog is up to four--yes, count 'em, four!--followers! Please feel free to get on board, or get an RSS feed so that new entries will be sent directly to your e-mail and you won't have to check back every so often for updates. We appreciate it!


  1. I follow via a Google Reader RSS feed (not to mention my Facebook feed), but I don't seem to be one of the "four."

  2. Not sure if that is paying a compliment or delivering a rebuke, but assuming the former, you can feel free to join the "Followers" with a click on the Google gadget beneath my profile (which needs to be changed, I know). As you are almost certainly more proficient than me at this, Ted, since you are Blog Empresario Extraordinnaire, I'm not even sure why I'm saying this. Time to drink more coffee.