GOP presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) won the Republican straw poll in Ames, Iowa on Saturday with 4,823 votes; more than twice that of any other candidate save Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX), whom she beat by just under 200 votes. However, neither former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, nor current Texas Gov. Rick Perry — who announced his candidacy for the nomination the same day — made any serious commitment of time or resources to the poll (though Perry supporters were in evidence on the ground in Ames). It’s not clear how much, if anything, the poll actually reveals about Bachmann’s political odds. Still, the event was decisive enough to drive third place finisher and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty from the race, and served as a symbolic capstone to Bachmann’s dramatic rise through the GOP ranks.
As Ryan Lizza summed up in his recent New Yorker profile, “Bachmann belongs to a generation of Christian conservatives whose views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians. Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any politician of her stature.” But while her political career originated and remains steeped in culture war politics, this has not prevented her from staking out an exceptionally hard-line on economic issues: She came out against the plan put forward by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) to end the debt ceiling stand-off, advocated blanket opposition to an increase in the debt ceiling under any circumstances, and has called for making more than a $1 TRILLION in cuts in just one year to balance the budget immediately, to take just the most recent examples.
BACHMANN’S INFLUENCES: Among Bachmann’s influences is a series of evangelical films by Francis Schaeffer titled How Should We Then Live?, which she has cited on the campaign trail as a profound influence, and a biography of Confederate General Robert E. Lee by author J. Steven Wilkins, which was listed as a recommended read on Bachmann’s personal website for a number of years. Schaeffer, whom Bachmann praised as “a tremendous philosopher” to Lizza, is striking for his hard-line right-wing evangelical stances on everything from politics to philosophy to art. His film series condemned the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, Darwin, secular humanism, and postmodernism as morally corrosive and oppositional to a God-centered worldview, while asserting the inerrancy of the Bible and the moral imperative of a biblical worldview. According to Lizza’s interview with Schaefer’s son Frank, the Roe v. Wade decision held particular prominence in his father’s thinking, marking a critical turn in America towards moral degeneracy. Still, all of this is small potatoes compared to J. Steven Wilkins book Call of Duty: The Sterling Nobility of Robert E. Lee, which describes slavery as an institution fostering “mutual respect” between black slaves and the white South, and one that left slaves “immeasurably better off” than they were in Africa. Wilkins goes on to argue against abolitionism, saying time was needed for the “sanctifying effects of Christianity” to take hold — presumably through slavery’s institutional causeways — before emancipation would be appropriate. Lizza correctly described the book as “objectively pro-slavery” and called Bachmann’s recommendation of the tome “one of the most startling things I learned about her.” The book’s bizarre moral inversion has carried over into other areas of Bachmann’s political activity, when in one instance she signed onto a marriage pledge by the FAMiLY LEADER that included language suggesting African-American children were better off under two-parent households during slavery than they are under one-parent households in modern America.
SOCIAL EXTREMISM: Bachmann’s commitment to the goals of the far right on social issues has not wavered as she has climbed the political ladder. Her early success in conflating educational activism with right-wing culture war issues was helped along by a now-disbanded group called EdWatch, which promoted everything from the teaching of creationism, to climate change denial, to opposition to gay rights and equality. Considered its “prized pupil,” EdWatch provided Bachmann with critical support in both her 2000 run for the Minnesota state Senate and her 2006 run for Congress. She retains the group’s two founders as staff members, and actively campaigns against the “homosexual agenda” in public schools. In 2004, Bachmann voiced concerns that the arrival of gay marriage in Massachusetts would lead Minnesotan couples to marry there, return to the state, and then “group marriage, polygamy, and things much worse may not be far behind.” Bachmann has both endorsed and received the endorsement of pastors who have advocated “ex-gay” therapy, called homosexuality immoral and unnatural, and dismissed recent concerns over the effects of anti-gay bullying in schools. The pledge by the FAMiLY LEADER which Bachmann signed included assertions that homosexuality was both a chosen lifestyle and a health risk, and Bachmann herself recently stated that the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy “worked very well,” and if president, she would “probably” reinstate it. Finally, her husband Marcus Bachmann runs a clinic providing “ex-gay” reparative therapy — which runs counter to the American Psychological Association’s conclusions concerning the appropriate therapeutic response to sexual orientation. To hear Bachmann tell it, she is “very proud” of the clinics, despite repeatedly dodging more pointed questions about the issue, particularly after scrutiny turned to her husband for referring to gays as “barbarians” and for taking over $137,000 in Medicaid funds over the past five years. In fact, the resulting scrutiny has become sufficiently intense that Marcus Bachmann has been forced to backtrack, claiming his clinic has never been involved with reparative therapy and suggesting the “barbarians” incident was the result of an interview doctored to embarrass the campaign.
ECONOMIC PRIORITIES REWARD THE WEALTHY: Bachmann’s economic views are no less striking for being relatively new-formed and often incoherent. She ended the recent debate over the debt ceiling increase with a move to the most extreme position possible, namely blanket opposition to any increase under any circumstances. When reminded that reaching America’s borrowing limit while preserving all payments to Social Security, Medicare, the military, and America’s creditors — as Bachmann has insisted — would mathematically require gargantuan and immediate cuts to every other area of government, Bachmann has responded with platitudes and obfuscation. When Fox News’ own Chris Wallace recently pressed Bachmann on this same point, she insisted that the budget gap be closed with “pro-growth policies” to increase revenue without altering the tax system — never mind that a growth in revenue necessary to close the deficit, even if possible, would require time, and thus borrowing would have to continue in the interim if massive cuts are to be avoided. As for those pro-growth policies, they seem to consist of lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 to 9 percent and eliminating the capital gains tax entirely, all at a cost to the federal budget of multiple trillions in revenue over 10 years. And all while calling for an increase in taxes on the working poor. Last year, Bachmann decried President Obama’s payroll tax cut for people lower down the economic ladder as an unaffordable increase in the deficit while simultaneously defending the need and legitimacy of much greater tax cuts for the rich regardless of their budgetary effect — all within the same interview, no less. And she has bizarrely claimed an extension of unemployment benefits, at a cost of only $34 billion for six months, would be unaffordable, even as she advocates tax policies that would decimate the government’s revenue stream. As for the recent downgrade of the United States credit rating by Standard & Poor’s, Bachmann laid claim to the downgrade as a validation of her position in the debt ceiling debate, while directly denying and contradicting the analysis Standard & Poor’s offered to explain the downgrade — and analysis whose cited reasons included the Republicans’ intransigent refusal to raise tax revenue, as well as the rhetoric offered by some, including Bachmann herself, suggesting the consequences of not raising the debt ceiling would not be particularly severe. Whether Bachmann is simply being disingenuous and politically opportunistic, or if she actually believes lightening the tax burden on the rich while increasing it for the poor is defensible on moral and policy grounds, or if she genuinely does not understand the economic consequences of her stated positions, or if she simply assumes anything advocated by Republicans is by definition good for the country while anything advocated by President Obama is by definition destructive, remains unclear.
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