Sunday, July 24, 2011

Michele Bachman did not confuse the birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy

Let me get this out of the way: I am not a supporter of Michele Bachmann.

But she is getting a raw deal. Most recently there was a ridiculous hullaballoo about her taking medication for migraines. This was such an obvious non-story that a backlash ensued. But it's not the first time that a story disparaging Bachmann has been concocted.

An earlier example is the meme (as repeated today by Frank Bruni in the New York Times) that she "confus[ed] the Iowa birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy."

No, she didn't. What she did is confuse Winterset, Iowa (the actual birthplace of John Wayne) and Waterloo, Iowa (where John Wayne's parents made their first home before he was born). So Bachmann did err, obviously, by mixing up two Iowa cities that contain eight or nine letters and start with W, both of which claim a connection to the Real John Wayne.

Maybe that's an embarrassing gaffe. I don't think so. But the reason it was news was because it just so happens that John Wayne Gacy (the serial killer) lived in Waterloo for a while and committed his first crime there (though he didn't murder anyone there). The idea was that Bachmann mixed up John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy. How hilarious! What a ditz -- she can't tell The Duke from the Killer Clown!

But anyone who believes this -- that Bachmann actually knew about John Wayne Gacy's connection to Waterloo, and even if she did that it was the reason she claimed it as the Real John Wayne's birthplace -- is too eager to believe the worst about her. Notably, the common charge (that, as Bruni put it, Bachmann "confus[ed] the Iowa birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy") is obviously false: John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago. So if it were really true that somehow Bachmann had the biographies of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy cross-wired in her head, then she would have had to claim Chicago as the birthplace of John Wayne.

Bachmann did not have the actual biography of John Wayne Gacy in mind when she made her claim about Waterloo. Nor is it remotely likely that she had an incorrect version of his biography (one in which he was born in Waterloo) in mind at the time. No, the answer the clear: she simply got confused about the birthplace of the Real John Wayne, and confused Waterloo with Winterset. The idea that John Wayne Gacy's adolescent residency had anything to do with this flub is just ridiculous.

I'm not the first to point this out. But the fact that the charge is still appearing in New York Times op-ed shows that this "confused birthplaces" idea is becoming one of those entrenched political fictions. Don't believe it! And be skeptical of any anti-Bachmann story you hear. Because whatever her merits as a presidential candidate, the press is out to get her.


In other news, Mother Jones reports that Bachmann has been all-but-murdering teenagers in her Congressional district.

This isn't exactly fair, but the Mother Jones article implying a link between Bachmann's politics and an "epidemic" of teenage suicides in her district made me think of another Mother Jones article I read many years ago, when I subscribed to the magazine, implying a link between childhood vaccines and the epidemic of autism.

Just goes to show that conservatives have no monopoly on the anti-science mindset.


  1. Your support of Michele Bachman is obvious despite your denial. That aside, I think you are right that she was confusing Winterset and Waterloo and not John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy (although the later two share nine letters while the former two only share three). The confusion is awkward for her as she was trying to establish her bona fides as an Iowan (despite leaving the state at the age of 12) and, more specifically, a citizen of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. Like Ms. Bachman, I also lived in Waterloo/Cedar Falls for the first tweleve years of my life. During the tweleve years I lived in that same town, I never heard anyone mention any connection between Waterloo and John Wayne or his parents. Many people know that Winterset was John Wayne's birthplace. This is because Winterset, a very small town, goes out of its way to promote the fact. Waterloo/Cedar Falls is a large (for Iowa) city. There is enough going on there that no mention is made of a John Wayne connection. Thus, in trying to make a connection between John Wayne, Waterloo, and herself, Ms. Bachman was awkwardly trying to reference a fact that is probably unknown to the vast majority of actual residents of the area.

  2. I agree that her mistake is embarrassing in that it reveals as inauthentic her attempt to connect with Iowans.


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