It would be too easy, too convenient to dismiss the ramblings of Rep. Michele Bachmann as the rants of a cravenly ambitious politician all too willing to cater to the paranoid lemmings of her tea party followers.
But it still doesn't diminish the harm Bachmann's latest paroxysm of fearmongering has caused to loyal Americans whose only crime has been the vagaries of birth and/or the choice of religion.
Minnesota's answer to Joe McCarthy has been in full demagogic froth of late. And like her patron saint of bullying, Bachmann — unburdened by fairness, or truth or reality — decided to impugn the patriotism of Huma Abedin, a top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and fellow Rep. Keith Ellison.
Abedin and Ellison are Muslim, evidence enough for Bachmann and fellow members of her unhinged Tailgunner Caucus, which also includes Florida's Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Boo!, to sign a letter sent to several federal agencies demanding an investigation on vague charges they are working against the best interests of the nation simply on the basis of their religious affiliation.
Bachmann and her cabal predicated their attack on Abedin after a Washington handwringer suggested the diplomat's family had an association with the Muslim Brotherhood, which recently rose to power in Egypt.
And thus, so the twisted reasoning went, Abedin was in a position to adversely influence U.S. foreign policy.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., took to the Senate floor to defend Abedin's character and her loyalty to the United States. And yes, that was hell freezing over.
Then pigs started flying as even House Speaker John Boehner, who is as partisan as it gets, also came to Abedin's side, calling her a person of sterling character and warning this sort of reckless bloviating could get pretty dangerous.
And it did. Abedin required police protection after the not unexpected death threats started arriving.
Now you might think if you had been called out by two of the Republican Party's leading figures, you might give some thought to cooling the rhetorical assault on someone merely serving her country.
Instead, Bachmann upped the ante in going after Ellison, accusing him of playing footsie — which he denied — with the Muslim Brotherhood and having deep ties to CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Naturally, Glenn Beck was more than happy to give Bachmann airtime to spread her bile on his dustbin of history radio show.
Of course, Bachmann blithely disregarded the fact that Abedin could never have been appointed Clinton's top assistant, with access to classified national security information, without undergoing a thorough FBI background check. It's not as if Clinton found her on Monster.com.
Perhaps Bachmann concluded that shamelessly going after innocent people with trumped-up allegations questioning their fealty to the United States would help her get re-elected. If so, it probably says more about the darker angels of the body politic than we need to know.
The notion that evildoers are trying to infiltrate the State Department was all the rage 60 years when McCarthy attempted the same, unsubstantiated witch hunt. There are many reasons why McCarthy failed, not the least of which was his confrontation with CBS News' Edward R. Murrow.
What Murrow had to say about McCarthy in 1954 applies just as pointedly to Bachmann's bigotry and racism.
"We will not walk in fear, one of another. We will not be driven by fear into an age of unreason, if we dig deep in our history and doctrine and remember that we are not descended from fearful men — not from men who feared to write, to speak, to associate and to defend causes that were, for the moment, unpopular.
"We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."
Murrow was right in 1954. His words are even more prescient today.