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Enough history to plague a saint: the problem of political memory

ALSO: Jimmy Carter comes to town in October; fact-checking Bachmann; Denny Hecker gets a public attorney; the Twins win their first Target Field game.

There is a problem in writing political hagiographies, and it is this: Politicians generally aren’t saints. Let’s take Ronald Reagan, as an example: It’s becoming increasingly common for conservatives to identify themselves as “Reagan Republicans,” which, as a recent piece in the Atlantic defines it, means they are for lower taxes, limited government, strong military (although a sensible one) and less regulation.

One suspects, after George W. Bush, that Republicans are simply looking back to the last popular Republican president — but they aren’t looking back very hard. These sort of hagiographies are as much an act of forgetting as they are remembering, so, for instance, if we’re embarrassed by Bush 43’s deficit spending, well, Reagan tripled the deficit. Upset about the recession that Bush 43 left us? Both Reagan and George H.W. Bush had their recessions. Put off by the various scandals of Bush 43’s administration? Reagan’s tenure saw the investigation, indictment, or conviction of more than 138 of his administration’s officials.

But it isn’t just the failures that are left off a political hagiography — it’s also the inconvenient successes. For example, President Barack Obama recently signed a treaty with Russia to reduce the arsenal of nuclear weapons by about a third. Gosh, was this maddening to Rep. Michele Bachmann and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, speaking at Bachmann’s fundraiser. “He’s dreaming of a world he’s wishes would exist,” Bachmann declared, and Palin immediately shouted, “We miss Ronald Reagan.” As John Stewart on “The Daily Show” quickly pointed out, this forgets that what Obama was signing — the New START treaty — was a continuation of START I and START II, which were likewise treaties with Russia (then the Soviet Union) to curtail nuclear proliferation. And who was behind START I and II? Ronald Reagan. His goal? As “The Daily Show” shows via archival footage, it was to reduce nuclear weapons by a third. City Pages has the footage.

Nobody’s started writing Jimmy Carter’s hagiography yet, which is a pity, as his single-term presidency probably deserves some reconsideration. Not merely because there was some genuine good in it — he valiantly tried to broker peace in the Middle East. There were also some aspects modern conservatives might find unexpectedly unappealing — he partially deregulated the trucking, rail, communications and finance industries. If you ever went to a long-forgotten museum that used to be at the top of the IDS building called UFO Alert, you might remember a document Carter filed with the National Investigations Committee On Aerial Phenomena stating that he had seen a UFO, which is neither good nor bad, but interesting. And some of you might remember the photo of him fending off an aquatic attack by a rabbit. We really don’t know what to say about that one, but it’s a piece of history that probably would be left out of Lives of the Saints. We mention all this because Carter is coming to town: FOX9 reports that the former president will be in Minneapolis in October “as part of a Habitat for Humanity project targeting areas hit hardest by the foreclosure crisis,” which may not be saintly, but is pretty darn decent.

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Let’s get back to Bachmann for a moment. Hart Van Denburg of City Pages offers a mini-roundup of her latest doings, including the surprising fact that the America Spectator recently seemed to acknowledge that Bachmann doesn’t actually get much done in her job as congresswoman, writing: “This is her second term as a U.S. Congresswoman. She has yet to sponsor and pass any effective legislation at all, let alone any related to the issues that put her in the spotlight — though in her defense she’s outnumbered, and to her credit, she has co-sponsored some good bills.”

City Pages also points to a piece in the St. Cloud Times by Mark Sommerhauser that fact-checks her claims about health care reform, and finds them to be pretty much fact-free. CP links to conservative blog True North, who describe her critics as the “Hate Michele Bachmann Brigade,” which is probably true. Fact-checkers are notoriously hateful, and get into their jobs because they are driven by personal vendettas that can only find their fullest expression in putting little checkmarks on documents to show whether a claim is verified or not.

Actually, the folks at Minnesota Independent seem to have quite an interest in Bachmann, although it’s presumptuous to call their fascination “hate,” and, honestly, everybody in the media seems to share the fascination. Here’s the Independent’s latest offering on the congresswoman: Firstly, Andy Birkey points to a claim Bachmann made that Obama’s popularity in the polls is dropping faster than any president in history. Birkey didn’t fact-check this, but we at the Glean are feeling especially hateful today, so we will: According to Gallup, “Americans’ favorable rating of the Democratic Party dropped to 41% in a late March USA Today/Gallup poll, the lowest point in the 18-year history of this measure.” So there’s that poll, which also points out that Republicans have dipped as low as 31% in December 1998.

And then, according to this poll, Obama’s approval has dropped to 47 percent. It’s not clear where Bachmann is getting the data that this is the fastest drop in history, although, to be fair, she’s not the only one making the claim, if this Google search is any indication. But according to Gallup, the same people who published the polls, presidential approval usually falls below 50 percent. Bill Clinton beat Obama to the below-50 percent mark, dropping down there in just his fourth month as president, while Republican Gerald Ford is the record-holder, managing to get all the way down there in a scant three months as president. George W. Bush’s average approval rating was 49.4 percent, again according to Gallup, so it’s taken Obama more than a year to work his way down to what Bush 43 just sort of lived with.

Very briefly, while we’re on the subject of hagiographies. Not everybody is embarrassed by Bush 43’s legacy, including local minister Joel Demos, who the GOP just endorsed against Rep. Keith Ellison. Lawrence Schumacher of the Twin Cities Daily Planet took a listen to one of Demos’ sermons, and, while Demos wasn’t exactly painting a mandorla around Bush, the sermon has him speaking highly of the former president, and also making the case that we are near the end of times, and so should probably worry about things appropriate to the eschaton, including the problem of “foul and indecent language.” It will be interesting to see how that plays in his campaign against Ellison in the coming election.

Onward: Douglas Burns at the Independent files a piece on Bachmann in which he accuses her of, as the title says, “[co-opting] abortion rights message to attack health reform.” Specifically, he claims Bachmann and U.S. Rep. Steve King had claimed that heath care reform is “nothing short of a federal intrusion into the bodies of Americans, or at least decisions about them.” But that’s not entirely fair: Bachmann’s actual claim is that government can now force you to do things, not that they can now stop you from doing things, like get an abortion. It might seem like a subtle difference, but when you’ve got a representative who forwarded the idea of death panels, you realize that this is a very different discussion.

A quick Denny Hecker update: You might remember the auto dealer was looking at a possible quandary, in that his lawyers were threatening to quit, but he had too much money for a public defender, but his money is a tied up in various court cases. Well, that’s been resolved: According to Karla Hult of KARE11, Hecker has a new attorney, and we’re picking up the tab.

Finally, some more Target Field news: The Twins christened their new stadium with a victory over the Red Sox, as the Associated Press reports; the first home run there was hit by Jason Kubel, and Kelsie Smith of the Pioneer Press quotes third baseman Nick Punto: “There was some banter going back and forth over who was going to hit the first home run, Punto says. “I know (Justin Morneau) and Mauer were talking a little bit of trash to each other, and Kubel came in and swept them under the rug.”