Michele Bachmann wins the first test vote among the many Republican challengers to Obama. Many of her followers would be cases for religious sect commissioners* here in Germany.
“This is the greatest county on earth,” boasts Duane Holt to a circle of people, “it’s just in the wrong hands.” Two lonely teeth jut from the lower jaw of the 69-year-old man. He does not have enough for a doctor’s visit. “My pension has not changed in two years,” he says with a somewhat quieter voice and adds, “I’m not one to burden the general public. I am just fine without teeth.”
Across the camping table from him sits a carefully made-up woman. Linda Love wears a favorite orange T-shirt and wears a purple band on her wrist, which signals those who have already voted and spoons food from a plastic bowl. Like all at the table, she voted for Michele Bachmann as the Republican presidential candidate. Because she is Christian. Because she understands something about finance. Because she sticks unwaveringly to her opinion. And because she wants government to shrink. “One has to budget with what one has,” says Linda Love. The 70-year-old woman lives in a camper. She previously worked as a secretary and in the process “took good care of her money.” However, it was never enough for a real house.
The two do not see themselves as victims. Rather, they consider themselves part of the vanguard of the “real America.” They want the federal government to curtail spending, but without touching their pension or health insurance a further time.
Like thousands of others, they have come to this provincial hamlet in Iowa this Saturday. The state in the Midwest is in the Corn Belt of the U.S. What is planted there is more than 90 percent genetically engineered and up to 100 percent successful. Especially this year, when corn prices are higher than wheat prices for the first time.
At the same time, Iowa is the cradle of the presidential election campaigns. Almost all presidents have begun their campaigns there, including Barack Obama. The residents of Iowa place value on small meetings with upcoming presidents. And they tell their grandchildren whom they trust and whom they do not.
Deemed a Right-Wing Extremist Up Until Spring
This time, as before, the Republicans are making the start. Their “straw poll” test vote in Ames is the first internal party election in the long campaign to the presidential election. There is free food, free T-shirts and free concerts. The day costs the candidates a fortune. Whoever wins the straw poll will not necessarily be the official presidential candidate of the Republicans, but is sure to garner a lot of headlines for a few days.
Michele Bachmann is the decisive victor of the day. She gets 28.6 percent of the votes. For a politician who was deemed a right-wing extremist up until spring and who appeared at all the demonstrations of the tea party, this is a sensational success. At the same time, those on the right of the party emerge stronger from the meeting. Behind Bachmann follow three other candidates who also belong to the outer-right fringe: Ron Paul with 27.7 percent; Tim Pawlenty with 13.6 percent, who already withdrew his candidacy Sunday; and Rick Santorum with 9.8 percent. Like Bachmann, they are all ostentatiously religious, oppose abortion and fight against same-sex marriage.
In contrast, the Republican candidates in Washington who are considered moderate land only in sixth and seventh place: Rick Perry with 3.6 percent [and] Mitt Romney with 3.4 percent.
“We’re taking America back,” Bachmann said regarding her success. Everyone understands that she doesn’t only mean President Obama, but also within her own party. Missing at the straw poll in Iowa are the candidates of the Republicans who, due to the rightward shift of the party, now appear moderate — among them Perry and Romney. They have traveled to Iowa and will tour the state afterwards. However, they leave the test vote in Ames to the party’s rightists. Bachmann and the others are using the opportunity to substantiate their ambitions.
The aggressive slogans of earlier tea party demonstrations are not to be heard in Ames: There are also no pictures depicting Obama with a Hitler mustache or in a Stalin outfit. The supporters of the party now call themselves “social conservatives.” And God plays a central role.
She Behaves Modestly
The central position of God is then followed directly by several lobby groups who not only sponsor the event, but also inject their ideas. At the top stands the American Petroleum Institute. It demands a quick approval of offshore oil drilling and a new oil pipeline from Canada straight through the U.S. for jobs and energy security. People from the National Organization for Marriage, who are touring Iowa with a “values” bus, make speeches against abortion. The National Rifle Association recommends Bachmann and Ron Paul and other pro-gun candidates. And the group NumbersUSA is for Bachmann because she advocates “secure borders” and tough prosecution of illegal immigrants.
Bachmann herself behaves modestly. In numerous small speeches she always says the same thing, and little that is political. “My name is Michele Bachmann. I was born in Iowa. I want to become president.”
Taking stock of her political activity, she refers to her “nos.” Since her entry to the House of Representatives in 2007, she has specialized in rejection, even when the rest of her party voted differently. Recently, she rejected the proposal to raise the debt ceiling at the beginning of August. When the ratings agencies punished the U.S., she continued to insist that it was right to threaten the world with insolvency.
In Bachmann’s tent, Boy Scouts in uniform alternate with church musicians. It is a campaign built with music and prayer. A youth band sings about Jesus in the heart and the love of God. Bachmann supporters stand with an enraptured look, arms stretched heavenward, sing along and sway to the rhythm.
In some other countries religious sect commissioners would be interested in the event. But in Iowa, where numerous fundamentalist groups cavort, a Bachmann fan says, “Real Christianity is tolerant.” And Duane Holt mumbles through his two remaining teeth, “This is now a Christian nation.”
"Bachmann Is Crazy”
Critical discussions do not come up. Outside of the straw poll, Bachmann’s appearances are more suspenseful. At the agricultural fair in Iowa, a young man jumps on a bale of straw while Bachmann gives her standard speech. “Shame on you!” calls Gabe Aderhold down from the hay bale. He is 17, wears braces and lets the fans standing around know, “For the Bachmanns people like me are barbarians.”** Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, a family therapist, termed gays this. In his clinic, treatments have taken place “to free” young men from their homosexuality.
At the entrance to Bachmann’s tent, volunteers check all wanting to go in. Outside a young man with an eagle tattoo on his left arm wanders around. “Bachman is crazy,” says Jason Arment, pointing out that religion and private life would be doomed in politics.
The 26-year-old man is nearing the end of his service in the Marines and fought in the Iraq War — “a lost year,” as he says. In the last election he voted for Obama. He criticizes Obama for continuing the war and therefore supports the libertarian, Ron Paul, who advocates the pulling out of all U.S. troops.
However, on the T-shirt of the young man is not only the name of his preferred candidate, but also “Freedom for Julian Assange!” Jason Arment calls the WikiLeaks founder a “hero.” At the straw poll, many consider Obama a socialist; yet even more doubt that climate change is occurring. But no one else is interested in Assange.
A topic considered one of the most important in the last straw poll four years ago has nearly disappeared: terrorism. It is increasingly a matter of economics. This is true also for Linda Love, who puts much store in Christian morals, but expects new jobs from the next president.
Milk farmer Jerry Harvey intervenes. He has 70 cows, tuition fees for his children’s education and is sitting on a mountain of $320,000 in debt. He would like to sell everything. But even if he did, the money would not be enough to settle his debts. He argues that “taxes” are responsible for his misery. In other words: the government.
*Translator’s Note: The term, “religious sect commissioners,” refers to government and church officials in Germany who monitor the activities of cults.
**Editor’s Note: This quote, accurately translated, could not be verified.