Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

Bachmann's advocated far-right positions from the beginning

Michele Bachmann shakes hands with supporters after a rally in Columbia, South Carolina, on Thursday.
REUTERS/Maryann Chastain
Michele Bachmann shakes hands with supporters after a rally in Columbia, S.C., on Thursday.

What does Michele Bachmann stand for?

There's time and need and value and pixels available for exploring both the personality (see my last post) and the policy issues surrounding a top-tier presidential candidate whom most of the country is just getting to know.

On issue positions, the overview is quite clear and it is this: Bachmann stands on the extreme right-wing of the U.S. ideological spectrum on almost every issue on which she takes a position. In fact, I'm not sure that the word "almost" belongs in that sentence, since I can't think of any exceptions to the general rule. Of course, many current Bachmann positions are now mainstream among Republicans in Congress and in the Repub presidential field. But she has several that go beyond the righty consensus.


Having covered Bachmann since her first race for Congress, I'm aware of some positions she has taken and never repudiated, that demonstrate just how willing she is to stake out extreme positions, although sometimes she does it in a cagier mode by saying she is "open" to certain things or that certain ideas are "worthy of debate" or merely to allow that she wouldn't take certain options "off the table."

Bachmann & Me

Some examples:

In 2006 Bachmann told me that she is "open" to the idea of the United States pulling out of the United Nations, that she favors the elimination of the entire Internal Revenue Code and although she has never settled on a plan to replace it, but that two ideas — a flat tax that did away with marginal rates or a large national sales tax (proponents call it the "fair tax") that would replace all existing federal taxes — were both "worthy of debate."

Bachmann favors the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education, and that includes the elimination of all federal education spending. In 2006 she said that the option of a U.S. nuclear attack on Iran, while not her first choice with dealing with Iran, must remain "on the table." Well, there's more.

And here's the extra appeal that Bachmann carries for the right-most elements of the Republican primary and caucus electorate, which helps explain why Bachmann is still thriving while poor Tim Pawlenty couldn't make it past the first straw poll. Since overcoming her youthful flirtation with Jimmy Carterism, Rep. Bachmann has always had these positions.

By the time he dropped out of the race, Pawlenty publicly agreed with Bachmann on most things, even the scary idea of simply refusing to raise the debt ceiling and taking the gamble on what that would do to the U.S. credit rating and the economy in general.

But Pawlenty actually came up in politics as the kind of moderate conservative Republican for which Minnesota used to be known. He flirted at times with gay rights. He once hoped to make his name as a moderate environmentalist, even an advocate for cap and trade. He once infamously signed into law a small increase in the sales tax on cigarettes in order to help balance the state budget.

Tim Pawlenty
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Tim Pawlenty

During his late campaign for prez, he tried to impress voters with his "candor" by frankly apologizing for these deviations from current Tea Party-driven righty orthodoxy. TPaw hoped that striking the I-once-was-lost-but-now-am-found straightforwardness of his apologies would differentiate him from Mitt Romney, who sometimes tries to spin his way out of the consequences of his own former deviations. But it didn't work in part because of Bachmann.

Bachmann has the drop on both TPaw and Romney. She had no deviations from which to apologize. Those who are comfortable with her far-right positions don't have to wonder whether she has adopted these positions because they recently have come into favor among Repub primary voters.

As a young state senator, Bachmann made headlines with eye-wateringly righty positions on gay marriage (ban it by state constitutional amendment — even though it's already banned by statute) and abortion (ban it, also by constitutional amendment, preferably without the common exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or posing a threat to the life of the mother).

Then came 2006, her first race for Congress, the campaign that first required her to take positions on the range of national and international issues, and the campaign in which I personally covered her most extensively.

As I got to know her, I wrote that "since entering politics in 1999, state Sen. Bachmann, R- Stillwater, has personified the conviction politician," which is nice and neutral, but I also quoted state Rep. Matt Entenza at the May DFL convention that endorsed Democrat Patty Wetterling to run against Bachmann describing Bachmann as "the kind of extremist who makes extremists look moderate."

In that 2006 campaign, even though she first had to win endorsement against three other solidly conservative Republicans (including state Rep. Phil Krinkie, the personification of the anti-tax position in Minnesota), Bachmann nonetheless adopted the slogan "Running for the Right Reasons." It was a none-too-subtle claim to being the furthest right in a group of righties, and it was true.

Over the course of the campaign, Bachmann took the following policy positions (all of which, to my knowledge, she still unwaveringly holds):

Favored, without reservation and with total buy-in to the Bush administration's justifications, the decision to invade Iraq. Favored (still does) whatever means necessary to stay until victory, which means the establishment of a democratic Iraq friendly the United States.

Favored making the Bush tax cuts permanent and had many ideas for additional tax cuts, such as the complete elimination of capital gains taxes, inheritance taxes and the alternative minimum tax.

But Bachmann also went much further, favoring the elimination of the entire Internal Revenue Service and the entire progressive income tax system. This, by the way, is something Bachmann still advocates as a 2012 presidential candidate. (Bachmann has been slippery, as she often is, on what she would put in place of the income tax. The slipperiness on the details and implications of some of her radical ideas creates an interesting tension with some of her policy thunderbolts and will be more thoroughly explored in a future installment of "Bachmann and Me.")

She also favored the partial privatization of Social Security (although, back to the slipperiness point, Bachmann wrote simply "no" on her AARP questionnaire when asked whether she favored such a plan. The details of her verbal gymnastics on that one are breathtaking).

On same-sex marriage and gay rights generally
Bachmann was asked by a caller to a March 2006 radio show to explain how he, a married heterosexual, would be harmed if his gay neighbors were allowed to marry. Bachmann replied that once a state legalizes gay marriage, "public schools would have to teach that homosexuality and same-sex marriages are normal, natural and that maybe children should try them."

She has publicly referred to homosexuality as "sexual dysfunction," "sexual identity disorders" and "personal enslavement" that leads to "sexual anarchy." (By the way, legal experts on both sides of the same-sex marriage question agree that there is no mechanism by which a legalization would automatically translate into a statewide mandate on what schools would teach about marriage. And there is no documented case in which any school curriculum actually encouraged children to experiment with same-sex marriage.)

Bachmann on Iran
Here's Bachmann, during a May 3 debate with her intra-party endorsement rivals, on what the United States should do about Iran:

The question was: "If diplomacy should fail to stop Iran's nuclear program, what should we do?"

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Bachmann: "I think that at this point diplomacy is our option. And we certainly don't want to move toward a nuclear response any time soon or without an abundance of caution.

"Iran is at a point right now where America has to be very aggressive in our response. We can't remove any option off the table. And we should not remove the nuclear response.

"However, we must proceed with an abundance of caution. Because we know that Iran is very precarious. And I think we should take very seriously the threats coming out of Iran right now. But again, there are other nations including Venezuela that we need to keep our eyes on as well."

This is a terrific example of how some of this Bachmann rhetoric works. Bachmann endorses diplomacy and caution. Hard to call that crazy talk. And saying that no options should be taken off the table is almost boilerplate, since few people argue for taking options off tables. But note that, although the question didn't ask about whether the U.S. should nuke Iran, Bachmann chose to bring it up twice in her answer, to say that it is an option. And then what heck was up with the sudden appearance of Venezuela at the end of her answer?

On education
Bachmann first became engaged in politics on school issues (she helped found a charter school) and her first candidacy was for school board (she lost, for the first and only time). And, recently at least, she tends to cite the demise of the state's "profile of learning" ( a state-mandated curriculum that conservatives felt promoted secular humanism) as her signal accomplishment of the state Senate years.

But as a matter of national policy (and she is, after all, running to be the chief federal executive), Bachmann in 2006 favored not only the repeal of No Child Left Behind (hardly a radical notion but a sign that she was not a total loyal Bushie), but wanted to abolish the U.S. Department of Education and end all federal spending on education. This represents quite a bit of money in the total public-education picture, although it is quite consistent with her general strict constructionist views of the constitutional limits of federal power.

I have never heard her take this back and assume that it is still her position. Plus, it would be part of the federal spending cuts she would need (although an insignificant portion of the total) to fulfill her current thunderbolt pledge (this is a 2011 position, not 2006) to make the cuts necessary to balance the budget immediately and forever.

On federal spending generally
If your grasp of federal budgetary matters is a bit math challenged, that Bachmann promise — wedded to her various tax positions — would require humongous eliminations of current federal functions, far beyond eliminating education spending and far beyond the austere and controversial House Republican budget plan authored by Rep. Paul Ryan. Bachmann voted for that plan with reservations because it didn't go far enough.

Here's how she put it last month in Minneapolis (the last time I covered her live) at the RightOnline conference:

"I'm just here to tell you, as president of the United States, I will make the serious cuts that have to be made so we can finally get our budget to balance so we never have to raise the debt ceiling again."

On the U.S. out of the U.N. and vice versa
During the run-up to the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, many righties, including Bachmann, were frustrated with the U.N. Security Council's unwillingness to endorse the war and thereby make it internationally legal. (I hope it's not to rude to point out, of course, the U.N. weapons inspectors turned out to be right and the Bush administration wrong about the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was Bush's chief justification for the invasion.)

Nonetheless, the incident stirred up the usual righty annoyance with the U.N. and, on the day she won the Repub 2006 endorsement for the U.S. House seat, Bachmann described herself as "a woman on a mission" for an end to abortion, for gun rights, veterans benefits, oil drilling and road building, and against United Nations control over U.S. actions in the world.

Again, with apologies for rudeness, the U.N. has never actually exercised much control over U.S. actions in the world, as evidenced by the fact that the United States invaded Iraq without benefit of a U.N. authorization.

Nonetheless, hearing Bachmann's rhetoric, I asked her if she advocated the U.S. pulling out of the U.N. After a certain amount hemming, she said she was open to it. And when I asked her if she would propose that, short of the United States withdrawing as a member, she would like to see the U.N. headquarters located in another country, she told me she "wouldn't shed a tear" if the headquarters moved to Brussels.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (23)

I have some questions for Bachmann: Can we allow the lives of others to be different from ours and feel happy for them? Can we rejoice for them as their happiness grows? If people are genuinely happy, do we need to impose our standards? If they are not harming others, can we be generous enough to feel joy for them? I do not believe that happiness is a limited resource, they the more someone else has, the less there is me me. I do not believe that heterosexuals have a monopoly on love and commitment.

Bachmann's star is on the rise?

Not exactly, there has already been an eclipse of Bachmann's moon in Iowa by Rick Perry. See latest polls.

Perry is doing to Bachmann what she did to TeaPaw. What goes around.

Of course the folks in Lake Wobegon's alternative (to the Side Track Tap)cafe already had this figured out the day after the Thrilla in Ames.

See: News From Lake Wobegon's Birchwood Cafe: Iowa Straw Poll Breaks Pawlenty’s Back
link: http://bit.ly/n1JqGi

My question is in response to Tom Miller and all those alike.
When did it become the norm to allow the minority to speak and govern the majority without consequence?????

The temptation to call Michele Bachmann “crazy” is a powerful one, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

What I’m reading here and in other sources, print and online, are the words of a full-fledged, calculating and quite intelligent demagogue. She has a list of loathings and prejudices, largely (but not exclusively) growing out of fundamentalist religion, that are contradictory, irrational, hostile to both the letter and intent of the Constitution, and nonetheless sincerely and firmly held. If we were in Kansas, she’s be a poster woman for Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter With Kansas.” She’s a wonderful / terrible illustration of the maxim that “Sincerity of belief bears no relation to the truth.”

What I used to tell my students after a classroom discussion of both the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic counter-reformation was, “Never trust a zealot,” and I think Bachmann exemplifies why.

Some of her more over-the-top statements reflect to me not so much an outright lie, but ideas she has absorbed from false and unreliable sources that she has come to believe so strongly that it’s easy for her to dismiss criticism because the critics obviously don’t live in her world. That her world is something of a fundamentalist delusion doesn’t matter in the slightest, and the more widely-known she becomes, and the more equally-badly educated followers she attracts, the stronger I think that delusion will become. If her words and deeds affected only herself and her own family, it would be sad, but not cause for general alarm. In a presidential candidate, those delusions ought to frighten every thoughtful voter in the country, conservative and liberal alike.

The founders, when writing the Constitution, had people like Bachmann and her supporters in mind when they created a government that Patrick Henry and other revolutionaries could not support. Madison and Hamilton may have sparred over the details, but they were both men of property who were distrustful in the extreme of what they would call “mob rule,” and is now thought of as “direct democracy.” In a nice bit of irony, Bachmann represents what Republicans of a century ago would have loathed, and quite a few "establishment" Republicans privately loathe today.

Tolerance of other viewpoints, a signal and iconic trait of the United States for more than two centuries, is not something widely practiced by religious fundamentalists anywhere on the planet, or the political far right in this country with which Bachmann has allied herself throughout her career. For me, that’s the primary reason to view Bachmann and her fellow Tea Partiers negatively.

A secondary reason is simply this: If you view government as the enemy, campaigning to become an even more important part of that government is cognitive dissonance – with flashing lights and fireworks. It doesn’t make sense. It also doesn’t make sense for people to vote for those whose primary campaign argument is that government is evil, while simultaneously waving the flag of militaristic patriotism. “Worship the country, hate the government” is not a workable approach to government on a national scale.

I thought Jim Kunstler (www.kunstler.com) said it best in his weekly blog piece on Monday when, among other things, he laid out this line: “…the rural idiocy that saturated Louisiana in the 1930s has finally seeped all over the country so that even people in once-literate Minnesota are represented by reality-averse evangelical maniacs. Candidates like [Texas Governor Rick Perry] Perry and Bachmann make a plain vanilla narcissist like Sarah Palin look at least capable of running a student council. What a low moment in America's history. Don't lose sight of the fact that there's room for the bar to go further down….” I fear that Bachmann’s continued popularity is both symptomatic of the country’s drift to neofascism and delusion, and an impetus to continue that drift.

Excellent post, Ray (#4). That goes for me too.

I think it is funny that Eric's article last week about Bachmann's personality, sort of trivial in the larger scheme of things but worth reading, in my opinion, got 59 comments both pro and con, and this article over more substanial issues gathers a mere four comments, none of them defending Bachmann's positions. This suddenly feels more like Entertainment Tonight than the Nightly News.

(a) For an interesting description of how far-right Christians like Michele B. are raised, check out Frank Schaeffer, the son of a far-right evangelical father who, as an adult, sees how mistaken his father was.

(b) Is Mr. Carnahan (#3) suggesting that it would be somehow dangerous to give Tom Miller "and those alike" the same constitutional guarantees of freedom to believe and to speak?

He seems to be afraid that the minority would "speak and govern the majority without consequence." Somehow I doubt that "governing the majority" is Mr. Carnahan's goal.

Yes, excellent post, Ray (#4)! I wish it could be more widely read. However,stay vigilent: Michele just might start an investigation to judge whether you're "Pro-American" or "anti-American."

In upcoming debates, Bachmann should be made to confirm or deny her position to never raise the debt ceiling.

If shes says "never raise" she will not win the race because all of the real money-people of any stripe will actively work to defeat her.

Mr. Carnahan (#3) seems to forget that the United States was founded as a place of liberty and personal freedom, with the goal of protecting "minority beliefs". Otherwise there might be a state religion or "dear leaders" elected with 99.9% of the votes.

By the way, I never knew that teh gays were planning on running the world. I thought that was the role of Islamofascists.

What so many of us fail to realize, as is the case with #3, above, is that granting full and equal rights to our GLBT brothers and sisters requires nothing of straight people (unless, of course, those people expect society to support them and even congratulate them in their constant expressions of bigotry toward others).

NO ONE is going to force any straight person to marry their own gender, nor is anyone going to force any of the children of such straight people to suddenly and inexplicably feel attracted to those of their own gender.

Just because some things invoke your "yuck" response, doesn't mean they should be illegal (any more than eating haggis or insects).

That some of us seem to believe that, lacking societal prohibitions, EVERY child will "give in" to attractions to their own gender says far more about the hard-wired, biological, affectional responses of those who believe such things (and the families, communities and churches in which they were raised) than anything else.

I can't help but wonder whether, if and when the times comes (and it seems to be rapidly approaching if not already here) when such folks are clearly in the minority, if they won't change their tune about how "the minority" should not be allowed to run the lives of the majority.

Eric, in your opinion, how many Minnesota journalists have pulled punches and avoided criticism because they knew they would have access cut off? Were you one who did this?

Many of the teapartiers seem to think giving GLBTs the same rights as everyone else makes them a special "protected" legal class. They do not understand--or choose not to--that the Constitution is set up to protect minorities from the majority.
Jason Lewis wrote this recently:

"Millions of Americans who have seen their social norms vanquished on the alter of an (altar) absurd political correctness. Their social conservatism is branded as bigoted, fringe and, of course, hateful, but they no longer care, they've had enough.

"That's what Bachmann represents -- a leader who will make, if nothing else, a last stand for traditionalism. Someone willing to unapologetically declare that, all things being equal, children need both a mom and a dad."
She represents "traditionalism"? Could have fooled me. I don't think she represents any major and influential school of thought that we've seen in the last 200 years.

I wonder what they've "had enough" of.
This is pure tripe and it's scary. Another commentary in the ST says people shouldn't be afraid of the religious right (another illogical and inaccurate piece, this by Gerson).
I guess we're paranoid to believe what these people are telling us about the what these politicians themselves are telling us. Throwing doubt on the separation between church and state ("where does it say that in the Constitution) and think government would be much better if we'd just scrap our secular approach integrate religious law (their own, of course) and beliefs into our legal and governing system.
The StarTrib is not a paper we can rely on any more. When was the last time you saw a Paul Krugman column? Or Robert Reich? Instead we get almost totally inaccurate diatribes that are neither factual nor logical, like Katherine Kersten, and Chas. Krauthammer. Aren't there any intelligent and knowledgeable Republicans? David Brooks comes close sometimes, but I cannot think of another.

#4 Ray,

Great post.

My problem with it is that you were to run a replace function and change Bachmann to President Obama, and Perry with Reid, and Palin with Pelosi. It would be just as great.

And that's the real problem.

This piece is laughable. Let's take a look at your first two examples of Bachmann's "wingnuttery":

Opposing the income tax is a "far-right" position? There are a half dozen states that come to mind that have no income tax (Florida, Texas, Tennessee, South Dakota, Arizona, etc.) in favor of a sales tax, which is a tax on consumption. Are the people in those states all right-wing radicals?

Those who support the progressive income tax are the radicals, since it mirrors Marx' progressive taxation in his communist manifesto. But somehow it's the Right that has the extreme position on income taxes?

K-12 education is a state and local responsibility. The federal government's department of education duplicates the states' departments of education and is a waste of money when we don't have money to waste. But I guess only far-right radicals are smart enough to admit that.

And Ray's comments are nothing more than eight paragraphs of hateful name-calling, character assassination and strawman arguments that never get around to debunking or disagreeing with anything Bachmann's ever actually said.

Which is why so many readers here liked it, I guess.

Not much more to add that Eric Black has and continues to so clearly define in his ongoing series watch dogging M.B, but...

My neighborhood has one garbage truck which squeals like it swallowed a live dog; a terrible sound. Finally realized it was probably a bad joint in the mechanical machinations of the truck.

More mellow now than a year ago so somebody tried to oil the joint whatever...but it still screams on a summer morning beneath my library windows.

I heard it this morning or thought I did until I realized it was Bachmann on MPR screaming her messages in the background. A live dog stuck in a garbage truck. A terrible sound.

Basically you just have to realize that the agenda here is to roll back the 20th century, and it always has been. This whole agenda goes back to the 50s. What's spooky about these right wing leaders is their deliberate dishonesty, psychopathic personalities, and tendency towards Fascism... yes Fascism. All totalitarian's spring from this "conservative" end of the political spectrum and Bachmann is a poster child for this. They seek to dictate no negotiate, they seek to control not accommodate, they despise diversity, and they're literal minds don't allow different interpretations of any disputed text from the bible to the constitution. Once exception, with conditions... Bachmann would allow women to vote, but ideally they should vote the way their husbands to them to vote.

The biggest issue, and this really needs to be emphasized, is that these right wingers actually don't believe in Democracy. At the end of the day the idea they THEY should be required to acquiesce to the wishes or judgement of a majority is abhorrent their nature. They can dictate to others, but not be dictated to. The conservative mind prefers to reference authority, this is why authoritarianism always arises from the conservative spectrum. Democracy assumes that people and human reason are capable of self governance. The authoritarian mind doesn't accept the supremacy of reason over authority, they don't trust people, they prefer to construct authorities. You see this when they treat the constitution like some kind of scripture, and deify it's authors as if they were infallible authorities rather than human originators.

No matter where you look you the rejection of democracy amongst the right wing. From constant efforts to disenfranchise voters to the rejection of election outcomes they don't like, you a fundamental distrust of the democratic process. The only concession to democracy is has been the frequent use of referendums, but this has been more of a strategic concession rather than an ideological one. Referendums rely on wedge politics and they are quickly abandoned once the wedge fails. For instance now that sentiment is changing on wedge issues like gay rights you'll the drive for constitutional amendments will cool dramatically amongst the right.

This is who Bachmann is. The question is why would a citizen of a democracy vote for such a person?

Great post, Ray @4.

Is there any precedent in this country's history for the rise of politicians like Bachmann (or Rick Perry and other Dominionists)? The only one I can think of is William Jennings Bryan who was a populist and a fundamentalist. But Bryan was an early advocate of government intervention in the economy, who advocated ideas which did not become policy until FDR. Louisiana Governor Huey Long was also a demagogue like Bachmann but criticized the New Deal from the left. Are demagogues really just all alike and only share the lust for power using anything that appeals to their followers to attain it?

Ms. Bachmann's ideology began as a fringe fundamentalist conception about God's intent, but it's moved much more into the mainstream, partly because Sarah Palin subscribes to a similar strain and partly because some of the arguments appeal to certain segments of business.

The ideology - which you can read about if you take the time - is much less libertarian, meaning less about "economic freedom", than about acceptance of God. Complete submission to God's will generates bounty. The connection made is that God presents us with the world - beginning of Genesis - and it is up to us to exploit it. I've made this point before, but the theology insists that only through submission to God will God protect us from ruining this world. I don't see how you can argue with that; you can't argue with crazy ideas.

The New Yorker has an article which addresses the origins of Ms. Bachmann's religious/political belief system.

http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/15/110815fa_fact_lizza

#18, how about Joe McCarthy?

#20, Joe McCarthy is another example of a demagogue but I was thinking of precedents of "Dominionist" demagogues who reject the constitutional separation of church and state. The closest example of any theocracy I believe this country has ever had is Utah in the 19th and early 20th century (a Mormon state) and Massachusetts before the Revolution in the 17th century. Until the last few years, no one in their right mind has advocated for a theocracy and a repudiation of the doctrine of separation of church and state. Not even Joe McCarthy. Yet that is precisely what the Dominionist position is. See the New Yorker article linked in #19 for an excellent background of Bachmann's Dominionist convictions and their roots.

#17 Paul //The biggest issue, and this really needs to be emphasized, is that these right wingers actually don't believe in Democracy.

And why would they. We don't live in a "Democracy".

As for the rest of that paragraph, it's absolutely backwards.

//The conservative mind prefers to reference authority,this is why authoritarianism always arises from the conservative spectrum.

The conservative mind prefers freedom of the individual. How many historical references have you missed? Or are Castro and Chavez conservatives in your world?

I hope I won't see the day when child molesters and pedophiles will be granted same rights as everybody else because until a few years ago lesbians and homosexuals were pariahs and outcasts. The transformation has been thanks to the media that they have come to control. This is the only issue I support Bachmann on - these people need medical attention, not same rights. I hope a few years from now I won't be labeled a homophobe for not wanting same rights for child molesters and pedophiles.