Archives: Palin-Bachmann Syndrome™

This appeared 11-12-2009 at Huffington Post.

The strange nexus of right-wing Christian identity politics and beauty pageants has produced Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and Carrie Prejean. What is it about their world that turns toxic and causes flaky behavior?

For those who missed it, here is Miss California’s meltdown on Larry King Live the other night:

When the biggest story about you is that your lawsuit against a pageant over “religious discrimination” was settled 24 hours after the pageant obtained your sex tape, you can’t expect Larry King and Celebrity News Network to avoid the question unless you make it a condition in advance. In which case, you probably won’t get the interview and your fifteen minutes are officially over. Prejean shouldn’t have gone on a call-in talk show if she wasn’t interested in taking, you know, questions.

Prejean had positioned herself to take advantage of right-wing outrage over the way she lost the pageant crown. Her stumbling response to Perez Hilton’s question about gay marriage has become exhibit A for culture warriors, who argue that creeping political correctness violates their “right” to despise Teh Gay. Sex tapes are the last thing Prejean wants to talk about. Yet somehow, Miss California had not armed herself with a cover story for her target demographic. Taking off your microphone and walking away is a childish act of childish avoidance, but unwillingness to spin is the only sin left in mass-media.

In modern Christian communities, beauty pageants are an acceptable hobby for young women. Southern belles have more than their share of victories in Miss USA, and every last one of them describes her Christianity at some time in the process. Miss USA itself is a politically conservative organization (which made Hilton’s question all the more strange).

By making an underage sex tape, Carrie Prejean had already broken the rules when she gave her answer. Prejean refused an obvious question because the answer was self-evident, and demolishes her credibility in a way that damages her chosen career of media martyr.

The Miss USA pageant set these rules long ago to make the competition acceptable in conservative places; now they produce conservative movement leaders. Sarah Palin is also a former beauty queen, and like Prejean she is also a creature of charismatic Christian identity politics. Her recent behavior, too, has been exceedingly flaky. There was her lengthy, rambling word-salad of a speech, described best by Shannyn Moore:

With such a large national audience, Palin didn’t talk about the plethora of issues facing Alaska. Why would she? She has much bigger fish to fry. She decided to slam Ashley Judd instead. Yes, really.

I don’t know Ashley Judd, but I like her. I know this must shock the Palinistas; they think I dislike Sarah because she’s pretty. According to Palin, she is some sort of Hollywood pixie; a “delicate, tiny, very talented celebrity starlet.” I don’t judge Ms. Judd on her stunning appearance; but on the criteria of her politics…just like Palin.

Nothing Palin says is apolitical. Her entire world-view consists of what she has learned from the conservative movement itself. As a result of that faith-based education, Sarah doesn’t know enough facts to stand up to rational examination. She was weighed, judged, and found wanting — against Joe Biden, of all people! — and her poll numbers have plummeted ever since.

In an effort to control her message, Palin’s publicity staff has done two things: (A) restrict everything but her book tour to Facebook, and (2) agreed to public speaking events only to deny they’d ever confirmed them and leave event planners in the lurch at the last minute.

Nor were these speeches scheduled for unsympathetic audiences: she was asked to speak at the Ronald Reagan library, even an Alaskan anti-abortion rally. She doesn’t hesitate to demand cash, even in Iowa. The 2012 Palin campaign has started by asking for the love-offering up front and insists the event sign a rider. You can see that in the event publicity materials.

The message control is amazingly strict. Press and cameras have been banned from all the appearances she has made, but also cell phones and personal recording devices — little wonder, as all the speeches she has done have been panned by notetakers. Her 90-minute Hong Kong speech was described by Paul Krugman as “half a Castro” in length.

As if in imitation, Carrie Prejean has gotten in the habit of canceling appearances, too (though not Larry King, for some reason). Another famous conservative woman with a similar background is Michele Bachmann (R-Oppositesland), who placed in the top 10 in the Miss Anoka Pageant and was crowned Miss Congeniality. Today, she has her own action figure and stars in a “conservative women” calendar along with Prejean.

While Bachmann rarely flakes on apearances, she often flakes in person. There’s a moment in this video when Michele Bachmann gets too crazy even for Glenn Beck. By happenstance, you don’t even have to play the video to see it:

If you do play the video, you’ll hear her ask of the US Census:

Do they really need to know our phone numbers? Do they really need to know, like you said, the date and time that we leave…mental stability?

Followed by a prolonged blink.

That’s Teh Crazy™.

You know the one question that is not on this survey, Glenn? “Are you a U.S. citizen?”

This is Teh Stupid™, because she also argues that this information can be used to round up Republicans and ship them off to the Glenn Beck doom bunker death panels.

“This would be your perfect opportunity to find out how many illegal aliens are in the United States.”

This is Teh Wacky™, wherein reflexive stupidity and and insane scenarios collide at the limits of mental reach. The chances of American government awarding Republicans an all-expenses paid vacation at FEMA death camps are remote. A non-citizen’s fear of deportation is far more likely, and rational, by comparison — and the whole point of the US Census is to count people, not citizens — it’s in their 200-year old charter.

After delivering this nonsense, Bachmann makes another prolonged blink. That blink is a recurring pattern with her special flavor of Teh Wacky™. In poker parlance, it’s her tell. Watch as she describes Teh Evil Plan™ to turn school clinics into abortion factories through health care reform:

Blink much?

I wasn’t sure what to make of it; I’m no psychologist. So I talked to a friend of mine with a degree in psychology and a fascination for neurolinguistic studies.

But wait, I hear you cry. What is that…neuro lingua thingy again? That’s fine; I should explain that neurolinguistics has gotten a bad rep from con men and entertainers, the former group using it for ill and the latter passing it off as “mind-control.” Neurolinguistics is the study of verbal and non-verbal cues. In plain English, my friend PistolPro can “read” people in a way similar to Tim Roth’s character on Lie To Me.

The problem, he says, is that we’d need a sample of Michele Bachmann telling the truth to serve as a baseline — and try as I might, I cannot find a video of Bachmann that doesn’t have Teh Wacky™ in it. So rather than pursue a more exact diagnosis, I have decided to coin a phrase: Palin-Bachmann Syndrome™, defined as the psychological imbalance produced by a toxic mix of right-wing identity politics and diva training.

Palin-Bachmann Syndrome™ manifests in the following behaviors: rambling, inane “word-salads” while speaking in public; paranoid access-control; espousal of fringe insanity; appeal to prejudices. See also: borderline and narcissistic personality disorders. In rare cases, Palin-Bachmann Syndrome™ can produce strongly offensive behavior:

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
This entry was posted in Huffington Post. Bookmark the permalink.