I know I have. My college application essay was dedicated to the people whose lives had inspired me, and I waxed lyrical about John Wayne Gacy, the Duke — and of course David Berkowitz, who wrote those lovely psalms, Hannibal Lecter, who crossed the Alps on elephants, and James Earl Ray, the voice of Darth Vader.
But the amount of Emperor’s New Clothes flitting about Michele Bachmann’s apparent mix-up of the actor (John Wayne) and the serial killer (John Wayne Gacy) has been extraordinary. After all, people make all sorts of gaffes all the time. Some call it “talking.”
This is just another case of Revere syndrome. Ask the average American where the battle of Lexington and Concord took place, and she will probably say “Around Dayton somewhere.” Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? Probably Bob Dole.
As a nation, it is a documented fact that we are completely ignorant of history — until a politician gets it wrong. Then all heck breaks loose. “Even I know that!” we shout. We know so little that this happens rather seldom, and when it does, it’s deafening.
Consider: 30 percent of elected officials do not know that the three rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. “Life,” they say. “Uh, arms. Bearing arms. And the legalization of marijuana.”
Your gaffes can’t be smarter than we are. Confuse Kaiser Wilhelm I with Kaiser Wilhelm II, and we will probably let it slide.
But our serial killers, we know. All that “Criminal Minds” watching has to be good for something! We can recite them as a litany, or at least I can, a skill I have been perfecting over the past decade in order to stop people from approaching me in bars.
But funny as the confusion is, this wasn’t really a capital-G gaffe. “John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That’s the kind of spirit that I have, too,” she said. Wrong John Wayne — John Wayne Gacy lived there sometime in the’60s with his family. John Wayne was born elsewhere in the state, and his parents apparently met in Waterloo.
Had she stepped forward and said that she was standing with God, America and Uncle Son of Sam, that would have been a Gaffe. This was a case of reality somewhat bending to conform to the narrative.
People seem to have the idea that Michele Bachmann is a wild-eyed loon who emerges periodically from hiding to declaim historical inaccuracies, like a malevolent David McCullough.
But how slim the pickings have been since this narrative emerged.
John Wayne was born in Iowa. Maybe not in Waterloo, but in Iowa. Since when is this not good enough? Since when was absolute precision required to claim famous figures? Austria and Germany have been at war for decades to escape blame and claim credit for Hitler and Mozart, respectively. There are at least three separate towns that claim to be the birthplace of the Republican Party. Mangling the shot heard round the world is one thing. But at this rate of scrutiny Bachmann will quote Pliny, and we’ll all leap out of hiding screaming, “Don’t you mean Pliny the Elder? Imbecile!”
This is not an interesting place to set the bar. There are actual things to discuss here. Her stance on the environment. Her stance on gay marriage. Perhaps more relevantly these days, her approach to the economy. All of these are objectionable, or not, depending upon your taste, and they could make an interesting discussion.
Instead, the coverage has revolved around this idea that she’s a flake who says crazy things. And the craziest thing anyone can come up with so far is that she said that someone who was born in Iowa somewhere was born in Iowa somewhere.
Can someone revise this narrative? There’s more to Bachmann than the gaffe machine she’s been painted as. You want a gaffe machine, Sarah Palin is on Twitter and happy to oblige.
After all, this is ridiculous! I am a humor columnist, and here I am having to come to Michele Bachmann’s defense when all I want to do is make jokes about serial killers.
Look, when you see a real gaffe, call me. I know a good gaffe. And it hasn’t happened yet.