Newsweek ran a cover story this week intended to be a brutal hit piece on Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who has emerged as a top candidate for the Republican presidential nomination.
Translated into plain English, however, Newsweek's piece was actually a valuable seminar in why the elitist left fears successful female conservative politicians and why it perceives Bachmann to be a particularly formidable threat to its own ambitions to direct the future of our country.
Early in the article, Newsweek's Lois Romano writes: "But in Iowa, Bachmann's simple, black-and-white distillations of complex problems are cheered as refreshing and tough."
This is intended to be a simultaneous dig at Bachmann's intelligence and the intelligence of Iowans.
Presumably, in the right parts of Massachusetts and suburban Maryland, people would not find Bachmann's "simple, black-and-white distillations" to be "refreshing and tough." Those people, Newsweek's presumed readers, would share the magazine's conviction that the problems America faces are of a complexity that would strain the understanding of the common denizens of Des Moines and Davenport -- let alone a conservative such as Bachmann.
But if Bachmann and Iowans believe the problems America faces are essentially simple rather than complex, they are right and Newsweek is wrong.
America's key problem is plain: We have a federal government that has reached beyond the constitutional limits on its power and is spending more than the nation can afford. The solution is also plain: Push the federal government as much as practically possible back toward its constitutional limits, thus reducing its size and cost.
What is complex is the problem faced by politicians -- especially, but not exclusively, Democrats -- who have built their careers by coddling constituents who have become dependent on government largesse. These politicians must find ways to explain the nation's deepening fiscal crisis, and pose plausible-sounding solutions to it, without threatening to reduce the redistribution of other people's wealth to their voters.
Newsweek's cover story describes Bachmann as follows: "Petite and prim, the 55-year-old mother of five delivers her stump speech with the earnestness of a preacher."
Now, try to imagine Newsweek publishing a similarly constructed sentence about then-Sen. Hillary Clinton during her 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. Such a sentence would have needed to go something like this: "Stout and cold, the 60-year-old mother of one delivers her stump speech with a sincerity that rivals her husband's."
Newsweek, of course, would no more have published that sentence than it intended any of the terms it used to describe Bachmann to be complimentary.
It meant to deride Bachmann in a way it would never deride a liberal female politician.
In fact, Newsweek felt compelled to repeat the fact that Bachmann has five children -- in the context of a paragraph in which, with unwitting irony, it suggested she is overly deferential to her husband.
"Married in 1979, Bachmann raised five children in Stillwater, Minn., and eventually fostered 23 kids," the magazine said. "She has said her husband directed her to study tax law, and she obliged because 'the Lord says: be submissive, wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands.' Asked about her choice of words, she explains: 'That means that I respect my husband, and he respects me.' But in a Bachmann White House, she adds, 'I would be the decision-maker.'"
Reading between the lines of this paragraph, what it really says is that Bachmann has had a long and successful marriage, she has been the successful mother of a large family, she has a deep faith, she has given back to her community, and she has had a career in a profession -- the law -- once dominated by men in this country, and that she has done it with the full blessing of her husband of 32 years.
Taking liberalism at face value, you would think Bachmann epitomized its feminist ideal.
But Newsweek suggests Bachmann is not even a true-blue advocate of limited government -- because she does not believe in abortion and same-sex marriage. To make this point, the magazine again draws implicit attention to its belief that Iowans are somehow an inferior breed.
"Many -- especially in Iowa, with its high percentage of evangelical Christians -- respond to her combination of antigovernment fervor and religiously inspired moral traditionalism on issues like abortion and gay marriage," says Newsweek. "But others are more consistent in their distaste for governmental meddling." To prove this, Newsweek cites the editor of a libertarian magazine.
Yet, the last three Republican presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan, were all social conservatives.
To explain "how radical" Bachmann and the tea party are, Newsweek's Romano writes that Bachmann and the tea party "don't just demand that spending increase less from year to year than previously planned ... 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."
Well, President Obama's Office of Management and Budget says federal spending has grown from 20.7 percent of gross domestic product in 2008, when Obama was elected, to 25.3 percent this year. As a percentage of GDP, federal spending is now at its all-time high for the post-World-War-II era. To bring it back to where it was at the time of Obama's election would require an 18 percent cut.
"There's no telling if Republican primary voters will reward such intransigence," Newsweek says of Bachmann's insistence on reducing government.
They clearly fear the answer is yes.