The Michele Bachmann who makes many Minnesotans wince returned this week. The relative respite the state had lately enjoyed from her verbal recklessness ended in spectacular fashion, as she and four congressmen on the GOP's far-right fringe launched a broadside against a high-ranking State Department official -- which she then punctuated with a swipe at Minnesota U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison.
In letters last week, Bachmann and her four colleagues implied that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin -- the wife of former New York U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner -- should not have passed a security clearance because several of her relatives have sketchy, dated ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. That's the large, fundamentalist Islamist group whose candidate won the Egyptian presidency in June. It's also the organization Bachmann accuses of trying to "subvert the United States from within."
When her letters came under fire this week from House Speaker John Boehner and 2008 presidential candidate John McCain, Bachmann didn't back down. Instead, she went on Glenn Beck's radio program and, almost in passing, took a shot at Ellison without providing any evidence of wrongdoing. He "has a long record of being associated with CAIR [the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a group seeking interfaith understanding] and with the Muslim Brotherhood," she said.
Ellison hotly denied the latter charge: "I am not now, nor have I ever been, associated with the Muslim Brotherhood." Fittingly, those words echo the responses of the targets of Sen. Joe McCarthy's communist witch hunts of the 1950s. Bachmann and her four congressional cohorts appear to be taking a page out of Tailgunner Joe's playbook.
Bachmann refers to the Muslim Brotherhood as if it were an Al-Qaida-like terrorist sect. Instead, notes the Council on Foreign Relations, the 84-year-old Brotherhood has 300,000 followers in Egypt alone and has not engaged in violent activity since the 1970s. It is indeed traditional in religious and cultural matters, but it has also shown political pragmatism. "We need not demonize it nor endorse it," advises former CIA Middle East expert Bruce Riedel, the council reports.
Bachmann evidently has rejected such advice in favor of the hyper-conservative analysis of the Center for Security Policy. It traffics in anti-Muslim fear as it casts the Muslim Brotherhood as a menace to America. It's disturbing to see a member of the House Intelligence Committee rely on this source so heavily.
"All we did is ask: Did the federal government look into [Abedin's] family associations before she got a high-level security clearance?" a wounded-sounding Bachmann told Beck's audience in her own defense -- moments after she raised the stakes by maligning Ellison.
We cannot recall a more brazen breach of collegiality within the state's congressional delegation. If Bachmann has hard evidence linking Ellison to the Muslim Brotherhood, she is obliged to publicly produce it. If she does not, she owes him and his district a prompt apology. Refusal to produce either should lead to censure by the U.S. House.
Bachmann appears to be back in prepresidential campaign form, tossing rhetorical bombs with little concern for the damage she inflicts. There may be no convincing her to change her ways. But Sixth District voters have it in their power to disconnect their region's reputation from hers.
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