Michele Bachmann And The “Submission” Question: Byron York Was Right

On reflection, the nature of Marcus Bachmann's influence over his wife is indeed a legitimate question in a political campaign.

During last week’s Presidential debate in Iowa, The Washington Examiner’s Byron York asked Michele Bachmann a question about her relationship with her husband that caused an immediate negative reaction from the crowd, and has generated much discussion afterwards:

YORK: All right. Thank you, Mr. Cain.

Next, we’re going to go to Representative Bachmann.

In 2006, when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea. And then you explained, “But the Lord said, ‘Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

As president, would you be submissive to your husband?

BACHMANN: Thank you for that question, Byron.

YORK: You’re welcome.

BACHMANN: Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I’m in love with him. I’m so proud of him. And both he and I — what submission means to us, if that’s what your question is, it means respect.

I respect my husband. He’s a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That’s how we operate our marriage. We respect each other. We love each other.

And I’ve been so grateful that we’ve been able to build a home together. We have five wonderful children and 23 foster children.
We’ve built a business together and a life together And I’m very proud of him.

(APPLAUSE)

YORK: Thank you Ms. Bachmann.

Before beginning, it’s probably worth setting forth in full what Bachmann said in 2006 that formed the basis of York’s question:

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?  But the Lord said, “Be submissive.  Wives you are to be submissive to your husband.”  And so we moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia, and I went to William and Mary Law School there, for a post-doctorate degree in tax law.  And I pursued this course of study.  Never had a tax course in my background, never had a desire for it, but by faith, I was going to be faithful to what I felt God was calling me to do through my husband.

This “submission” idea comes from a passage in the 5th chapter of St. Peter’s Letter To The Ephesians that has become a standard part of a Christian wedding ceremonies, in fact I can’t remember a wedding I’ve been to where that particular passage from Ephesians wasn’t read. The question, though, is what that language means to different Christian sects, and how that teaching is applied in the daily lives of its members.

There was plenty of reaction to the question in the immediate aftermath of the debate, most of it about as negative as the crowd reaction to York’s speech at the debate venue. In my own summary of the debate, I said that I thought the question was somewhat unfair, and that’s coming from someone who is most definitely not a Michele Bachmann fan. Well, in today’s Examiner, Byron York steps forward to defend himself and explain why he thinks the question was perfectly legitimate:

In the days since the debate, a number of commentators have taken issue with the question. “Snarky and uninformed,” wrote Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton on National Review Online.  “It is really an obscene question, both in its blatant misunderstanding of Christian teaching and in the disrespect it shows the candidate as a woman and a wife.”

“Submitting to Stupid Questions,” said the headline of an opinion article in the Washington Post.  Referring to a complaint by Newt Gingrich that some of the debate questions constituted “Mickey Mouse games,” the Post’s Alexandra Petri wrote that, “The epitome of the Mickey Mouse games came late in the evening, in a question posed to Rep. Michele Bachmann.”

“When we look at many of the vital issues facing this country, who in their right mind would waste time during a nationally-televised debate asking the only female GOP candidate about whether she would submit to her husband in the White House?” asked CNN’s Roland Martin.  (Just for the record, my first question to Bachmann was about taxes, and she faced questions from the Fox/Examiner panel on the economy, the debt ceiling, the war on terror, and other topics.)

One striking feature of the criticism is that it did not examine, and in some cases didn’t even mention, the premise of the question.  One can read Stanton’s critique all the way through and never have any idea of what Bachmann actually said back in 2006 said that formed the basis of the question.  Petri ignored it as well, beyond saying that Bachmann had “once alluded to submissiveness in a speech.” To his credit, Martin included the entire debate question, but does not appear to have looked any farther into the matter.  The critics suggested the question was without basis by simply ignoring its basis.

The “submissive” question returned on Sunday, when Bachmann, fresh from her victory in the straw poll, was asked about it on “Meet the Press.”  Noting that she had already answered the question at the debate, Bachmann said, “‘Submission,’ that word, means respect. It means that I respect my husband and he respects me.”

Will that put an end to the question?  Probably not. Bachmann’s point that “submission” means “respect” will likely ensure that she is asked the question again in the future.  After all, the point of the 2006 story was that she made a major career decision that she didn’t want to make because her husband told her to — because she believed God was calling her through her husband.  Some critics just won’t buy it, and as long as Bachmann is running for the highest office in the land, things she has said in the past will always be a part of the political conversation.

David Weigel agrees with York, as does The Daily Caller’s Matt Lewis:

Indeed it is a legitimate question. If Bachmann is truly going to submit to her husband when it comes to making serious decisions (as she said she has), that is fine. It should not disqualify her from service. But it also becomes a fair question for York to ask. And it means Marcus Bachmann deserves a thorough vetting.

Legitimate or not then, the question is whether, as President, Michele Bachmann would make decisions based on what her husband tells her to do because the Bible tells her to “submit” to him, and that God is somehow speaking to her through him. The reason its an uncomfortable question, and the reason the crowd booed, I think, is because it seems to delve into an area that we usually don’t talk about very much, the relationship between a prospective President and their spouse.

History is replete with examples of Presidential spouses who, in one way or another, caused problems for their husbands, or otherwise assumed roles that raised eyebrows in some circles Mary Todd Lincoln’s had family ties to men who were actually serving in the Confederate Army, for example, but it was perhaps her tendency to run up bill for household furnishings and her frequent bouts with what was called “melancholy” but which now clearly seems to have been some form of clinical depression that caused poor Abe the most headaches. When Woodrow Wilson’s health began to deteriorate in October 1919, his second wife Edith Wilson hid his medical condition from his cabinet and the Vice-President and essentially acted as President for him. Eleanor Rooselvelt was an independent, outspoken First Lady in an era when such a thing still made some people uncomfortable. Betty Ford was an outspoken advocate of women’s rights. Rosalyn Carter took it upon herself to attend Cabinet Meetings. After his attempted assassination, President Reagan’s wife Nancy took too consulting astrologers and exercising sometimes odd authority over his schedule for fear that he would be the victim of another shooting. And, of course, Hillary Clinton, or as she was first called when her husband took office, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stretched the bounds of what it meant to be a First Lady in ways that few others before her had.

In truth, of course, we never really know what role a President’s spouse has or will play in their Administration. Presumably, a President would refrain from sharing classified secrets with their spouse (Michelle Obama, for example, told a magazine recently that she was unaware of the Osama bin Laden mission until her husband told her about after it was over), but the amount of actual discussion that goes on in the Presidential bedroom is something we’ll never be privy too, and we probably shouldn’t be.

Nonetheless, I think that York, Weigel, and Lewis have a point here and that my initial reaction to the “submission” question was incorrect. Michele Bachmann has said publicly that she made an important decision to do something she didn’t want to do because her husband told her to do it. Quite honestly, I find that rather odd not just because I can’t understand why anyone would submit themselves to the will of another person like that, but also because Bachmann doesn’t really strike me as a person who is easily dictated to by anyone. In any case, though, she opened the door and made it an issue, and the American people are entitled to know just now much influence Marcus Bachmann would have in a Bachmann Administration, even if the likelihood of such a thing ever existing is pretty close to zero.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tea Parties are for Little Girls (formerly Hey Norm) says:

    The fact that Byron York even asked the question shows that the Republican establishment, for whom York is a stenographer, is dead-set against Bachmann.

  2. legion says:

    And it means Marcus Bachmann deserves a thorough vetting.

    This is absolutely true. And it is exactly why her campaign will push back so hard against questions like York’s. Because I hereby predict that Marcus, with all his ‘pray the gay away’ stances, has a very gay skeleton in his closet. I have no evidence for this, merely gut instinct. But I betcha a dollar it derails her once Romney and Perry get to slugging it out…

  3. legion says:

    @Tea Parties are for Little Girls (formerly Hey Norm): Well, they’ve got Cain, who has no chance in hell, but shows that the GOP does have one or two blacks in the ranks. Bachmann’s meant to show they don’t mind women reaching for the stars either, but I don’t think she’s going to fade back into the woodwork now & let the menfolk handle things like it says in the script – I think, for all her other, numerous faults, she is a True Believer, and won’t go away quietly. Especially after winning Iowa.

  4. James Joyner says:

    It’s every bit as relevant as Mitt Romney’s Mormonism or Barack Obama’s affiliations with the preachings of Jeremiah Wright.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    Glen Stanton at National Review did a very slick job of presenting as a red herring ‘what do Christians think submission means’ to divert attention from the real question of ‘what do Michele and Marcus think submission means’, which may be a long way from what an average Christian thinks. There is good evidence that Bachmann is a Christian Dominionist. If she is a Dominionist, then questions about her beliefs are, in practice, policy questions, and fair game.

  6. Beth says:

    She actually has some pretty serious stuff to overcome within the religious right. I used to teach at a place we’ll call Deep South University. I had students tell me, in all seriousness, that they did not have to submit to my authority as the instructor because I was a woman. These same students told me that women should not be allowed to run for office and should not be allowed to be in positions of authority over men above the age of twelve/thirteen (roughly baptism/confirmation age). So, basically, women can be elementary school teachers through the first part of middle school, but shouldn’t be allowed to teach in high schools or be principals, mayors, senators, or president. That is their understanding of the submission language in the Bible.

    It’s not a small group of people who believe this, and I suspect that her own statement of “submission” to her husband is both going to play well with this crowd and lose her their vote at the same time.

  7. Andyman says:

    In an era where we had to spend a certain large number of news cycles nitpicking just how patriotic Mrs Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and random neighbors of BHO including Bill Ayers might be, Marcus Bachmann is certainly fair game regardless of how much influence he has. Pundits can feel free to hand-wring about how we shouldn’t be talking about this (while they talk about it) but the conversation still has to and will happen.

    From what I remember of the discourse in 2008, the mere fact that the association exists/existed is damning from a personal judgment perspective. If you don’t run screaming from the room you’re proud of every thing they’ve ever done. So I’m not sure if I want a president who “pals around” with some kind of ex-gay ministry kook, much less sleeps with him.

  8. rodney dill says:

    It’s a 2 for 1 deal. Vote for her and you also get him….

    Wait a minute… Hillary Clinton already used that line….

  9. PJ says:

    Indeed it is a legitimate question. If Bachmann is truly going to submit to her husband when it comes to making serious decisions (as she said she has), that is fine. It should not disqualify her from service.

    That should definitely disqualify her from service. If she submits to her husband when it comes to making serious decisions, then her husband should be running for the republican nomination.

  10. Gustopher says:

    Morality is the underpinning of our decision making process. A candidate’s morals and values absolutely should be questioned and explored by the media.

    Michele Bachmann’s seemingly weird branch of evangelicalism, her husband’s “Pray Away The Gay” services, Obama’s preacher, Romney’s Mormonism, Hillary Clinton’s penchant for killing people and eating their brains, all of this should be open to question.

    I want to know if Bachmann’s submission to her husband means he’s ultimately in charge.

    I want to know how strange and weird her husband is, and whether she agrees with his worldview.

    I want to know whether Obama believes that God should bless America with no hesitations, or whether he believes that America has been failing its moral obligations to the less fortunate and might even be worth of God’s damnation.

    I want to know whether coming from a religious minority with easily mocked teachings has caused Romney to be more understanding of other minorities.

    And I want to know whether Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster for a reason, or just because “he needed killin'”. And why does she feast on the brains? Is it to incorporate their spirit, or just for shock value?

  11. CB says:

    this whole thing makes me see shades of billary

  12. RWB says:

    MB also said that SHE is running for president, not her husband. This implies that although she may seek his council, she will be making the decisions and not her husband. We have a right to know that this is true, or to vet her husband if he will be the decider.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Beth:

    I used to teach at a place we’ll call Deep South University.

    Are you sure you weren’t in Saudi Arabia? Teaching at Taliban U?

  14. Brian Lehman says:

    I’m someone who believes we should be as respectful as possible to a candidate’s religion because, let’s face it, almost any religion looks odd from the outside. But that all changes if it is apparent that certain views would impact decision making. To me, it is clear that Bachmann has some very radical views, and it’s fair in my mind to explore them a bit.

  15. Anon says:

    I think it’s relevant in another way. It highlights some of the disconnect between literal interpretations of the bible and the modern world. If Christian fundamentalists are going to use literal interpretations of the Bible when discussing issues such as homosexuality and evolution, then surely we are justified in pointing out situations when a literal interpretation is problematic.

  16. PD Shaw says:

    I don’t have much problem questioning a candidate about religious matters. Religion is a matter of choice, which impacts one’s values. My only hesitancy is that most candidates, most questioners and most Americans probably have a very thin understanding of religion, so it may not be a constructive use of time.

    I”m more concerned about questions directed towards the spouse and whether its likely to decrease the likelihood of women candidates.

    My wife as a young lady walked out in the middle of a church service in which the role of women was being discussed. I think she could fairly judged by that act, but I have a harder time that she should be judged by any crazy thing her husband might say or believe. You sort of sign up for the package.

  17. tyndon clusters says:

    Hey conservative whack jobs, is there any real reason in the 21st century for a turn of the last century party to even exist?

    I think about entering elementary school 30 years after the New Deal was enacted. The world view was of gleaming new infrastructure, ribbons of highways, bridges, hospitals, new universities and colleges being built….and a tax rate of 71% on the highest earners with a capital gains tax of 35%, antitrust laws vigorously enforced, a strong SEC and tight regulation of finance capital. The future was unfettered and bright.

    Contrast this to what a child now entering school 30 years after the Reagan Revolution confronts: a bankrupt country taking fiscal marching orders from a feudal dictatorship we prostituted ourselves to in order for wealthy individuals and corporations to reap literally all the financial gains of the past quarter century.

    The fact that moronic christian cultists like Palin, Perry and Bachman are even for one nano second seriously considered for the highest office of the land would make Ike and Nixon vomit.

    If any of you wingnuts want to go toe to toe, mano a mano regarding the disgusting legacy of those that have for 30 years destroyed the New Deal social and economic fabric which brought this country to heights unimaginable, then lets have at it, for the time of polite disagreement is over.

    Chamberlain learned when the Nazis took the Sudetenland that his style of negotiation was naive and dangerous.

    The Republican Party and the stooges which comprise it are at the heart of the slow destruction which threatens our children’s future and opportunity.

    Mr. Mataconis and Mr. Joyner are seriously so far out of step with the infants in their Republican Party that I am amazed they can keep defending the insanity emanating from these lunatics.

    I remember as a young boy seeing old newsreels of the freak show known as Father Coughlin and watching a rerun of the famous Murrow shows castigating McCarthy.

    I asked my dad about these guys and he said they were kooks and crackpots. I wondered how anyone could take them seriously as they were so totally wrong.

    I fear in 30 years, people will look at old 2D video of Bachmann, Palin and Perry and ask themselves what the fuck were those baby boom idiots thinking in 2011?

  18. tyndon clusters says:

    Your comment is awaiting moderation.

    Hey conservative whack jobs, is there any real reason in the 21st century for a turn of the last century party to even exist?

    I think about entering elementary school 30 years after the New Deal was enacted. The world view was of gleaming new infrastructure, ribbons of highways, bridges, hospitals, new universities and colleges being built….and a tax rate of 71% on the highest earners with a capital gains tax of 35%, antitrust laws vigorously enforced, a strong SEC and tight regulation of finance capital. The future was unfettered and bright.

    Contrast this to what a child now entering school 30 years after the Reagan Revolution confronts: a bankrupt country taking fiscal marching orders from a feudal dictatorship we prostituted ourselves to in order for wealthy individuals and corporations to reap literally all the financial gains of the past quarter century.

    The fact that moronic christian cultists like Palin, Perry and Bachman are even for one nano second seriously considered for the highest office of the land would make Ike and Nixon vomit.

    If any of you wingnuts want to go toe to toe, mano a mano regarding the disgusting legacy of those that have for 30 years destroyed the New Deal social and economic fabric which brought this country to heights unimaginable, then lets have at it, for the time of polite disagreement is over.

    Chamberlain learned when the Nazis took the Sudetenland that his style of negotiation was naive and dangerous.

    The Republican Party and the stooges which comprise it are at the heart of the slow destruction which threatens our children’s future and opportunity.

    Mr. Mataconis and Mr. Joyner are seriously so far out of step with the infants in their Republican Party that I am amazed they can keep defending the insanity emanating from these lunatics.

    I remember as a young boy seeing old newsreels of the freak show known as Father Coughlin and watching a rerun of the famous Murrow shows castigating McCarthy.

    I asked my dad about these guys and he said they were kooks and crackpots. I wondered how anyone back then could take them seriously as they were so totally wrong.

    I fear in 30 years, people will look at old 2D video of Bachmann, Palin and Perry and ask themselves what the fu*%ck were those baby boom idiots thinking in 2011?

  19. Tea Parties are for Little Girls (formerly Hey Norm) says:

    Tyndon…
    An amusing rant but, while I am generally sympathetic to your views, you should lose the Hitler bit. Nazi hyperbole never reflects well on the ranter.

  20. tyndon clusters says:

    Norm, yes perhaps you have a point, but never in my lifetime did I think our country could go backwards like it has.

    I remember watching “Inherit the Wind” as a young kid and thought how absurd the Scopes trial was…but yet, now, in my middle age, the rightwing kooks are at it again…the creationists and their insistence on denigrating “science” “evolution” “knowledge”.

    Sorry Norm, the brother of my grandfather served in the State Department in Berlin in the 30s and witnessed the rise of Hitler.

    He used to regale us with stores about what that time was like, but one in particular stands out and it describes modern conservatives perfectly

    He said he should have known in 1937 what was about to come. He said when discussing Hitler and the political climate in the Reich, that whenever he would say something negative or critical, a blank look would come over his German colleagues,followed by a glaze in their eye, then they would start screaming that Hitler gave hope and jobs. After that he said there was zero use in even trying to discuss facts or debate issues. There was just this complete denial and close-mindedness that had taken root at the most base level.

    Similarly, when I try and debate the true believers on the right , the same things happen.

    Iraq? oh they quote clinton and Kerry from 1998 and say, “hey clinton and kerry thought saddam had WMDs etc”

    The financial meltdown? Thats easy, it was Carter and that dastardly Community Reinvestment Act from the 70s which gave negroes access to loans they never should have qualified for.

    Obama? Oh he’s a muslim socialist who hates America.

    Need I go on?

    If you want a real hoot, ask a conservative why the bush tax cuts should be extended. The response, “we shouldn’t fetter the Job creators with higher taxes”.

    Yeah, but weren’t these cuts in place for the last 10 years? and now we are in the midst of a depression worse than all save one? How could that happen if these cuts were primarily enacted to avoid such a recession?

    The response, “hey man blame the niG3334er in charge” since business is wary of his policies etc.

    I give up.

  21. Ron Beasley says:

    This is the scariest thing about both Bachmann and Perry.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @tyndon clusters: I share your frustration… if not your rhetoric. But maybe it is time?

  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Ron Beasley: Scary indeed.

  24. Xrlq says:

    This “submission” idea comes from a passage in the 5th chapter of St. Peter’s Letter To The Ephesians that has become a standard part of a Christian wedding ceremonies, in fact I can’t remember a wedding I’ve been to where that particular passage from Ephesians wasn’t read.

    Ephesians purports to have been written by St. Paul, not St. Peter. More likely, it was a forgery.

  25. Beth says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Nope in the Good Old US of A. On 9/12/01 the church we all referred to as Ft. God (one of those really big megachurch places that you need a map to get around) had a US flag on its main building the size of an RV.

    What was really interesting is that the department chairs would always tell students (when they would complain about a woman grading them, invariably at the end of term), that they had the opportunity to not have a woman instructor the first day of class — it’s called dropping the course. Once they decided to stay, they agreed to the terms which included having a woman as the “decider.”

  26. gVOR08 says:

    @tyndon clusters:

    Thank you for your posts. I share your experience. I graduated from college and took my first real job in the late sixties. It was a hopeful time. I felt that my own situation, and the situation of the country and the world, would slowly improve. And they did. Then the covert corporatism of Movement Conservatism arose, succeeded, and Republicans have dominated politics and policy for the last generation. The results are before us.

    A few years ago I read Jared Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed” which discusses the Maya, the Greenland Norse, Easter Island and several other failed societies. As you read it, you wonder how these people could fail to see what was happening, fail to see that their leaders were leading them to disaster. Now I see us going the same way. Making supid economic decisions and ignoring huge, obvious problems. We’ve been watching a slow motion train wreck for a decade or more, and we can’t stop it.

    I contemplate the world my grandson will live in and I’m scared.