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The Minnesota farceur

The residents of Minnesota have a reputation, buffed by Garrison Keillor, of being dour, stolid Scandinavians, but I detect in them an antic sense of humor. Surely that must account for their great gift to the Congress, and the nation, the Hon. Michele Bachmann.

Representative Bachmann made some remarks this week at a “Tea Party Express Forum,” including some suggesting that the nation’s schools teach history no better than they teach grammar:

"Other than Native Americans who were here, all of us have the same story." She described “us” as the descendants of "a risk-taker from their home country, doesn't matter what the country is, but they took a risk, and they came here."

"And they knew when they came here they weren't coming for a welfare state. They were coming here for the thrill of writing their own ticket. Who did we attract? People that wanted a better life and were willing to do what it took to get it."

Others have commented on the signal omission of African-Americans. Even in the tea party, I think, it must be better to ignore the descendants of slaves than to suggest that the happy darkies were lining up to write their own tickets on the Middle Passage.

But it wasn’t just kidnapped Africans whose arrival here was less than voluntary. We were initially, like Australia, a set of penal colonies, and people convicted of minor crimes such as theft and prostitution were sent here, the better to remove the trash from Britain. It was so commonplace that Daniel Defoe has Moll Flanders sentenced to transportation to the colonies as an alternative to hanging.

Some came here an indentured servants in a kind of limited slavery. Some were wastrel younger sons and bankrupts. In later centuries, once we were an independent nation, some came here, sensibly, to dodge the draft in their home countries.

We would do well to keep in mind Paul Theroux’s sardonic remarks about the Old Dominion in The Old Patagonian Express: “ ‘We’re English,’ say some citizens of Charlottesville, Virginia, referring to the fact that their ancestors abandoned soot-grimed mining towns in Yorkshire and made enough money raising pigs to set up as gentry and keep Jews out of the local hunt clubs.”

Some indeed came here as risk-takers eager for a better life, but many of our ancestors arrived on these shores simply because they were not wanted somewhere else.


Posted by John McIntyre at 10:37 AM | | Comments (36)


" ... many of our ancestors arrived on these shores simply because they were not wanted somewhere else."

And some of them lit out for this new place because they were wanted somewhere else, right?


Indeed, the ancestors of Native Americans probably came here for the same sorts of reasons, over the Bering Strait (possibly on foot, possibly in boats) and down.

After that politically corrected explication of why JEM doesn't like Michelle Bachmann, will someone tell me how that explains the lurking presence of Mr Keillor? (Other than public radio, naturlich.)

There are some in this country who take great pride in voicing opinions that include a strong distaste for scientific proof, intellectual reasoning, journalistic practices and historical realities. For these folks- there is nothing of any substance that will dissuade them from their opinions and public proclamations. Good try though- as always- I'm enjoying your column as I know many others are too!


I recall reading in a biography of Ben Franklin that he editorialized in the Pennsylvania Gazette against the English practiice of sending criminals to the colonies. He finally suggested that to show appreciation to the gifts being sent from England, the colonies ought to send a gift native to the colonies to enhance England -- rattlesnakes.

Yep, I guess if we hadn't commuted their death sentences to transportation we'd have saved ourselves a load of trouble.

If one harkens back to those powerful, well-intentioned lines of poesy writ by Emma Lazarus from her "The New Colossus", cast in raised bronze letters for posterity beneath our resolute Statue of Liberty ("Mother of Exiles"), they essentially reflect the humble mien, and generally marginalized lot-in-life of the earliest wave of hapless immigrants to this still young nation, predicated on the basic inalienable human rights of freedom and liberty of expression for all Americans. (Well, w/ the exception for a lengthly spell for our oppressed Native-Americans, Blacks, women----w/ respect to suffrage--, and your basic felons and miscreant. Hmm...... did I leave out any more 'problematic' sorts?)

Lazarus' poem reads thus: (Just the latter section)

........Mother of Exiles........
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breath free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shores.
Send these the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Oh, what eloquent, stirring, noble, august inscribed sentiments to first greet the countless millions of foreign 'exiles' who have ventured to America's alleged welcoming shores, only to find that once they've landed on U.S. terra firma and stayed a while, that perhaps those halcyon shores weren't quite so welcoming after all, and that Lazarus' "golden gate" was perhaps wrought from mere fool's-gold, rather than that storied, ever-glowing immutable element that reflects so much promise of good fortune, prosperity and freedoms yet to come.

As you so rightly pointed out Prof. McI., many of our earliest emigrés from distant lands who sailed the treacherous, most unpredictable Atlantic passage, to hopefully safely land upon these New World shores, did not come of their own free will, but were , indeed, "kidnapped' ---brutally separated from all kith & kin, divested of all earthly material belongings, stripped naked, shackled in iron chains----- to eventually debark from wretched, steaming hot, dark, rat-infested wooden ships, to begin a god-forsaken life of abject servitude, hard-labor, constant emotional and physical abuse, and most tellingly, illiteracy.

With each major wave of 19th-to-early-20th century immigration, be it the massive influx of Irish poor folk after their infamous potato famine(s), the post-Highland Clearances diaspora from Scotland, or the multiple surges of desperate Eastern, Middle and Northern Europeans (Poles, Hungarians, Yugoslavians, Italians, Greeks, Scandinavians and Jews, ----granted not a nationality), all fundamentally seeking a better, more prosperous lot in their lives, sadly the growing menace of blatant xenophobia rose up in all its ugly, insidious 'glory'.

Many now, and for some decades past, question the 'veracity-in-kind' of those inspired sentiments from Lazarus' poem, "The New Colossus", as the stark reality of a multi-racial, multi-cultural, multi-linguistic, and multi-faith United States of America evolves. Sadly, the specter of racism still plagues this land, that from it's inception held such inclusive, universal aspirations of freedom for all Americans. We are clearly still a complex, imperfect work in progress.

Shifting gears a tad, but keeping in mind some of my earlier salient points.

IMHO, GOP Representative Michelle Bachmann and those of her vocal right-wing political ilk (Hmm......Sarah Palin comes to mind), are indicative of the shallowest, most petty, most facile-thinking, reactionary conservative, close-minded, partisan voices out there today. The states of Minnesota, and Alaska hardly have a complete monopoly on these purveyors of stridently voiced, rhetorical pontifications of formulaic, parroted ad nauseam, political-charged shibboleths.

(Clearly, just because brilliant humorist/ raconteur Garrison Keollor hails from Minnesota, hardly means that the likes of a Michelle Bachmann, a fellow Minnesotan, has any clue as to how unfunny, farcical, and verging on the ridiculous she can actually be. As poet Robbie Burns so wisely scribed, "Oh, to see ourselves as others see us."....... or words to that effect.)

Rep. Bachmann is clearly one of those current Tea Party 'sweethearts', along w/ her sister-in-arms, Sarah "Going Rogue" Palin. Of course Tea Partiers claim they have no official 'big-party' affiliations, or allegiances (GOP, or Dems), but moreover, speak up for those miffed grassroots, middle-class Americans who feel that big, expanding government, profligate Fed spending, higher, and more taxes, and the recent slow drift from the guiding principles of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, must all be curtailed. That our democracy bedrock is slowly eroding, and rampant, crippling socialism is on the ascent.

Clearly, anyone w/ at least half a brain, and is fairly attuned to the 'Mainstream Media', can see thru this broken-record Tea Party ad hoc political platform, and their fervent, false claim to political objectivity and non-party affiliation, while grasping the reality that these angry-as-hell-and-i'm-not-going-to-take-it-anymore folks, are plainly solidly aligned w/ the Republican Party's less-government-spending, fewer taxes, capitalist-free-market-centric ethos.

Last November's mid-terms were kind of a litmus test for the nascent Tea Party movement, as they aligned w/ mostly Republican hopefuls, and proved to be a boon to some candidates, and a complete bust to others. Whether they will have a major impact on the tenor of the upcoming elections in 2012 appears to be a wait-and-see proposition.

What is also glaringly apparent is that the Tea Party's admittedly slightly amorphous rank-and-file are essentially lily-white, fundamentalist Christian, middle/ working class, and have failed miserably to attract almost any so-called people of color (Blacks, Latinos, Asians), which kind of flies in the face of the high-and-mighty, lofty principles of our Founding Fathers. and those courageous, selfless civil rights pioneers who emerged as the nation clearly evolved into a more blended mosaic of the global population. (One of the ironies of those very Founding Fathers was that many of those hailing from the southern states were slave owners. Thomas Jefferson being one of the more celebrated profiteers in the 18th century slave trade.)

In my view, high-profile pols like Bachmann and Palin have an admittedly seductive, telegenic appeal about them. Basically, they are very physically attractive, energetic, highly politically ambitious women who have meteorically risen to national prominence in an age where sadly, style and good-looks, somehow trump personal substance, and genuine intellectual depth, and breadth of knowledge.

Case in point, whenever Bachmann, or Palin are forced to deviate from their well- coached and clearly-rehearsed political talking-points scripts, and obliged to speak extemporaneously, or off-the-cuff, one can plainly see the 'emperor (or empress) sans clothes', so to speak; getting a fleeting glimpse of their lack of global perspective, experiential depth, and ability to think on one's feet, without the safety net of political handlers and deft speech writers. I can't help but conjure up that profound saying, "Clearly, there's no there, there."

No major media moment in recent history underlines the paucity of a wider, more curious personal engagement w/ the world-at-large than news-anchor Katie Couric's now famous on-air query of then-running-for-Vice President on the '08 GOP Presidential ticket, Sarah Palin, on what publications (newspapers, magazines, blogs et al) she would usually read. And Palin, as we recall, quite stunningly seemed to draw a complete blank, and came up w/ absolutely goose egg. (Ugh!)

Well, I managed to ramble hither, thither, and yon ('yawn' HA!), but hopefully made some degree of common sense of it all.

Have a great Valentine's Day week fellow bloggers.

Ta! Ta!


(It's Michele.)

^^ tl;dr

A national myth does not, of course, have to be a hundred per cent accurate in order for it to have validity. It just needs to enough truth, and enough encapsulated principle, to retain its value.

Enough settlers and pioneers were valiant and independent yeomen for Michele Bachmann's vision to resonate; enough immigrants were the victims of cruel laws or vicious landlords for JEM's and Alex's point to be honest. These myths aren't without use simply because many of the settlers and pioneers would have been glad to accept welfare for their children or because the masses from which the Framers emerged were not particularly poor or huddled.

It is right to challenge these myths, but it is also right to acknowledge their value as patterns against which actions and policies can be judged. If one wishes to extend welfare, it is useful for voters to judge this against national principles. Is this in the nation's tradition of offering a home, help, and hope to the needy; or is it handouts for the workshy? Does it undermine the sturdy independence of that Americans have shown from the start, or is the fear that welfare will enslave and inebriate seem overcooked when applied to, say, New Zealanders?

You don't render these comparisons invalid by querying the state of mind of Europeans stepping off the boat in the 18th century.

Nor should one rattle off a comment without checking it twice. Is there a copy editor in the house?

Good morning, Julie,

Hmm......... so what the "L", I unwittingly added an extra "L" (lower case, of course), to Michele Bachmann's first (given) name. Mea culpa.

I guess I can find some degree of solace in the fact that I actually remembered this unabashed Dems basher's 'Christian' name ended in double"n"s; not uncommon w/ some Germanic-rooted names ending in "n". Political pundit Keith Olbermann, and writer Thomas Mann come to mind. (Whew! I dodged THAT bullet.)

Julie, I'm pretty sure you would have found me out on THAT glaring faux pas, as well. But respectfully, do you have anything a tad less picky (no offense to YOU, blogger Picky), and perhaps to some degree, more enlightening, to add to the conversation at hand? Just sayin'.


Ah yes. The "thrill of writing their own ticket" -- this of course explains the Scots who came here due to the Highland Clearances (when the English decided that raising sheep was more profitable than having people on the land); the Irish who were starving to death in the Great Potato Famine; the vast numbers of WWI and WWII refugees who were fleeing persecution of one sort or another. And this doesn't begin to reflect migration from the South and the West. Or even the religious zealots who were run out of Europe and arrived on American shores to create their own little persecutions (remember the Salem Witch Trials?) . Got it. It was all about "the thrill." Thanks, John, for another reminder of why this "tea party" business is run by Mad Hatters.

Oh dear, Cygnifier, here I go again.

It's just the blinking of an eye since Alex and I had a long discussion about the Highland Clearances, with me explaining why it was a rather serious untruth to say that the Clearances were "when the English decided that raising sheep was more profitable than having people on the land".

I think you'll find it in comments to Mr McI's post "London beckons" at the beginning of January.

I'm generally a calm and deliberative sort of person, but this stuff is beginning, just beginning, to annoy.

I would be really grateful, Cygnifier, if you could check your statement and, if you find that it is less than accurate, come back and say so; or, if you stand by it, explain.


Just a little note of caution.

Don't get blogger Picky's dander up, or you'll likely rue the day. An annoyed Picky is one thing, but a thoroughly ticked off Picky can be a sight for sore eyes. HA!

Indeed, while our blogmeister McI. and his better half were enjoying the wintery climes of London town about a month ago, Picky and I did hash out the whole Highland Clearances brouhaha. He pretty much convinced me, w/ some strong historical evidence, that the English, per say, had very little direct impact on the initiation, or carrying out of this major forced demographic shift in the Scottish Highlands.

On my account, we even got into a rousing debate about the current 4th Baron Strathcona, living, for decades, on his grand estate in Yorkshire, England, who turns out is a glorified absentee landlord, of sorts, on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Colonsay, in Scotland.

Seems, as Picky so graciously pointed out, that this Baron Strathcona was actually a Canadian nobleman, who just happened to choose to reside in England, and would on occasion summer w/ his family on Colonsay, which had been the family charge since the mid-19th century w/ the first Baron Strathcona, Donald Smith, a proud naturalized Canadian, yet born-and-bred in Scotland.

Picky, apologies for resurrecting the Highland Clearances 'thingy', yesterday. Seems like dêja vu all over again, don't it? HA!

By the way, i liked your largely fair-and-balanced assessment of the lofty founding freedom 'mythology', and guiding principles that has predicated America's enduring promise to its foreign emigrés beginning their new lives in the New World.

Picky, you do give due credit to the ofttimes strident, and annoying Michele Bachmann's citing of those courageous, risk-taking, freedom-seeking, high-minded, self-made immigrants to our shores (as you so aptly put it, "valiant and independent yeomen"), but also acknowledge Prof. McI.'s counter argument (and to some degree my echoing of his sentiments), that for many pioneering, new Americans from afar (both of recent vintage and old), their experience of this vast, new, country that idealistically espouses freedom for all, has not been one fostered by the exercise of free will and self-actualization. Rather, for many new-comers it has been an uphill, constant everyday struggle for basic societal acceptance, tolerance and fairness, in the face of lingering prejudice, institutionalized biases, and forced social marginalization.

Picky, I find you always bring a measured and reasoned, generally well supported
'argument' to the continuing conversation on this site. And I, for one appreciate it.

When you season you commentaries w/ a smidgen of dry wit, then its even more of a delight.

Hope your Valentine's Day is a loving one. Same sentiment to you Cygnifier and all my other fellow bloggers, and of course. blogmeister 'Mac'.

As those mop-tops from Liverpool chimed awhile ago, "All you need is love, is all you need."


Alex McCrae, your contributions here are a constant and welcome reminder to all of us to keep our own comments short and to the point.

Tim - to you goes "best comment of the day" award - at least in my book.

Tiffany, in my book, MrRational and Terry Collmann are tied for best comment of the day.

Tiffany, thank you very much for the recognition. I try.

And as long as we're voting, I think I'll join Stephen in supporting Terry Collman's pithy insight (or insight on pithiness, whichever you prefer).

Terry Collmann,

Touché, Monsieur Collman!

Frankly i would be the first to admit that my penchant for verbosity (or some might argue, verbal diarrhea), is only exceeded by my willingness to forgive tongue-in-cheek, (mildly) covertly-hostile, terse, hit-and-run comments, and commentators. HA!

Hmm.......... at the risk of coming off as slightly paranoid, could you have added an extra "L" (lower case), and "n" to your blog moniker just to get in a parting little salt-in-the-wound dig? (Harking back to my earlier Michele Bachmann 'rebuttal' ?)

Perhaps regular blogger Patricia the Terse's comments might be more in line w/ your short-attention-span, concise, to-the-point proclivities, although, alas, even she can occasionally drift into that dreaded domain of the haplessly long-winded.

But respectfully, your point is well taken, and I'm sure shared by many, including one of your newbie fans, namely blogger Stephen. But don't expect too many short and pithy 'bons mots' coming from this quarter any time soon. A Twitterer I am NOT!

Oh, and call me a tad dense if you will, but I initially had no clue as to what blogger Mr.Rational's earlier cryptic (^^ti;dr) code stood for. At first blush I thought it represented some ancient runic symbology, but now I suspect it might be a cyber-hipster's lazy attempt at dissing a fellow blogger........... hmm...... translated.....TOO LONG; DRECK, perhaps? Just a wild guess. Tell me if I'm totally off-base on THAT one.

Terry, hope you're finding love on this fine Valentine's Day.


Terry Collmann,

In allowing my earlier venting of, dare I say, mild invective towards you, to settle in for a half day, or so, I would like to offer an apology for, in hindsight, my over-reacting to your mildly sarcastic, yet valid reproach/ observation, (deftly guised in the form of a backhanded compliment) of my ofttimes rambling, long-winded commentary style on this blog, in what was perhaps, on my part, a rather knee-jerk, defensive, equally sarcastic, if not more sarcastic manner.

In rereading my last post I realize I responded in kind of a petty fashion, and should have been more tolerant of your cleverly worded commentary on my admitted tendency to 'beat around the bush'.

I'll try to make, or get to, my point in a more timely, and more concise fashion, going forward, but cut me a little slack if I tend to amplify, or ramble off on meandering tangents, or embellished passages, on occasion.

Terry, thanks for your honesty. No hard feelings?


P.S.: Well at least THAT was on the shortish side. HA!

My family on my father's side came over in the late 17th century to what is now New York state. Flash forward about 2.5 centuries.

My Aunt Pamela wanted to join the Daughters of the American Revolution as a means of moving up the social scale in her adopted city of Atlanta. She asked my grandfather for family records and he--a former Ohio farmer and Prairie populist--flat out refused to give her any.

When asked why, he said he saw no reason for her to associate with the descendants of people who fled their native land because they were wanted by the law or couldn't keep a job.

Ooohhh, Terry's comment wasn't showing when I added mine.

Yeah, that's a good one too.

Picky et al -- The Highland Clearances were a fact even if there are various versions (and few definitive answers) of where the most pressure came from for it to occur. One might take a look at the BBC's The Cultural Impact of the Highland Clearances or John Prebble's The Highland Clearances (the edition I have is the 1982 Penguin).

Let's stay topical though. Since my point got highjacked, I'll take another go at it -- my intent was to support John's blog entry with a reflection on the lack of "thrill" associated with e/immigrating. My family (tossed off their land in Scotland and ending up shipwrecked off the coast of VIrginia) and many many others did not come for the "thrill" of anything. They came because they were desperate and then made the best out of it they could when there were no other options. It was most often an immigration of survival, not necessarily of grand dreams. The dreams did come later, thank heavens.

As much as I like Lady Liberty, I've long been convinced that the French sent her to us to dissuade all those refugees from going to France. Recent experiences might bear out that possibility. And I hope no one hopes that my mention of Garrison (Garrison?) Keilor mistakes it for admiration. He lost me after he ran out of 'Schticks' about the Lutheran Church. There's somthing about that smarmy voice, for starters.

Thank you, Cygnifier, for the courtesy of a response, but you have misunderstood me if you take me for a Clearance Denier. Perhaps I should have been more clear.

My complaint is simply that they were not carried out by "the English" but by Scottish landowners - prominent among them many of those clan chiefs whose successors seem sometimes to be held in such warm regard among the Scottish diaspora.

We English have accumulated our fair share of iniquities in a our long and unquiet history; we can do without other people's being charged to our account

Sorry, that Anonymous was me.

Sorry, Picky, to have left a false impression in the initial post alluding to the Clearances. I have always assumed that it was Scottish landlords who pushed my shiftless ancestors off the crofts. No criticism of Sassenachs was intended.

Ach - it gives me a hobby. Anyway, you can tell the Sassenachs weren't behind it: we'd have called it the Highland Right-sizing or something.

Now back to Ms Bachmann and her fellow Mad Hatters ...

Back to the leitmotiv of the Scots again, I see. And what is a Sassench when it's at home?Some people are extremely thin of skin about their ancient forebears. Most people have unpleasantness in their backgrounds, but that is history; I see no reason to go on about it as if they were responsible for things hundreds of years ago. So, then, were the Sassenachs good, bad or merely there?

Very good indeed. Surely you know our ancient history? According to our greatest historIans, we "drove the Britons westward into Wales and compelled them to be Welsh; it is now considered doubtful whether this was a Good Thing. Memorable among the Saxon warriors were Hengist and his wife (? or horse), Horsa. Hengist made himself King in the South. Thus Hengist was the first English King and his wife (or horse) Horsa, the first English Queen (or horse). The country was now almost entirely inhabited by Saxons and was therefore renamed England, and thus (naturally) soon became C. of E. This was a Good Thing."

Having cleared that matter up, perhaps I would stop rabbiting on about ancient grievances and we can turn to some modern ones. How's Ms Bachmann getting on?

1066 and All That! Picky, you've quoted one of my favorite books of all time. I immediately recognized your quoted passage before the first semi-colon and started to grin. (I've lost count of how many times I've read this fine contribution to the historical canon.)

One of the best things about that book was they had to write it all over again after a co-author left what they thought was the final version of the manuscript in the back of a cab. I've always wondered what that draft looked like, compared to the one that made it into print.

Thanks for the grins Picky,

Then perhaps we should remind Ms Bachmann of the results of the earlier Tea Party:

"One day when George III was insane he heard that the Americans never had afternoon tea. This made him very obstinate and he invited them all to a compulsory tea-party at Boston; the Americans, however, started by pouring the tea into Boston Harbour and went on pouring things into Boston Harbour until they were quite Independent, thus causing the United States ... The Americans, in memory of George III’s madness, still refuse to drink tea and go on pouring anything the English send them to drink into Boston Harbour ... After this the Americans made Wittington President and gave up speaking English and became U.S.A. ... This was a Good Thing in the end, as it was a cause of the British Empire, but it prevented America from having any more History."

Don't forget Wittington's cat. He was, I believe, a major cause of the Revolution. You might say he was a catalyst.

And he gave us a good licking, I believe.

Thanks, PIcky, for the clarification. Now I understand -- and stand corrected. Funny how often it is that one is done in by one's own people and then the accounts morph to place the blame elsewhere. This is a lesson from Scotland...and Africa and elsewhere. Re the tea parties, those are purr-fectly dreadful puns. ;-)

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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