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.”
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.
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?”
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?
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.