In a story last week in the Daily Beast, national political writer Jill Lawrence examined Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s core religious belief that she should be submissive to her husband:
Back in October 2006, recounting her life journey to an audience at the Living Word Christian Center, Bachmann talked about “receiving Jesus” at 16, studying hard, meeting her future husband at college, and earning a law degree. “My husband said ‘Now you need to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.’ Tax law! I hate taxes — why should I go and do something like that?” she told the audience. “But the Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.”
Bachmann said she never had taken a tax course, “never had a desire for it,” but “I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.” Later, when the opportunity to run for Congress arose, “my husband said, ‘You need to do this,’ and I wasn’t so sure.” She became sure two days later, after praying and fasting with her husband.
When I saw Bachmann’s comments in a recent Washington Post profile of her marriage and tracked down the fuller videos on YouTube, I had to admit: I wondered if her husband had directed her to run for president, and whether both of them should be standing at the microphone during debates. That wasn’t charitable, but nor was it atypical, according to John Green, a religion and politics expert who heads the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron. He calls Bachmann’s language “very unstandard for national politics. Outside of an evangelical context, it’s very likely to raise questions about Michele Bachmann’s ideas and attitudes. Who’s in charge of her life? What are the appropriate decisions that individuals make as opposed to the decisions that couples make?”
Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway thinks there’s no problem here, says Lawrence:
“When people think of women submitting to their husbands, it’s usually they don’t have access to the family checkbook and they’re stuck picking up Cheerios from the floor — not ‘you should get an advanced degree in tax law and run for Congress,’” she told me. That looks more like “loving encouragement,” she says, and it’s a lot different than what happened to Clinton [who apparently could not stand up to a cheating husband]. “I can’t think of anything more submissive of a wife to do than stand and face public humiliation side by side with the man who has just admitted to cheating on her,” Conway says. “It’s making a mockery out of their marriage and her sacrifices.”
She also raises the possibility that Bachmann may have been joking about that submitting thing. Hmmm.
Bachmann is showing herself to be a capable politician and probably will find other ways to describe her marriage and faith for both religious and non-religious audiences. Case in point: the response I received when I asked the Bachmann campaign to comment on the Bible quotes, her marriage and the perception problems that confront women seeking the presidency. Her spokeswoman, Alice Stewart, said in an email: “Congresswoman Bachmann has been happily married for 33 years. She and her husband, Marcus, have worked together as a team to raise their five children and welcome 23 foster children into their home.”
The statement is fine as far as it goes, but it goes only as far as family life. What about career decisions, professional decisions, financial decisions? Are the Bachmanns equals on a team, or does the biblical instruction apply? Who would be making decisions in a Bachmann White House? And are these fair questions to ask, say, at a candidate debate? “Yes,” Mandel says. “She made the statement. This is the quote. It might have been in a church but it was in public, outside the home. It’s fair to ask her to clarify that as a candidate for a presidential nomination.”