The XX Factor

The Real Problem With Marcus Bachmann

Getty Images

This Politico profile of Marcus Bachmann, the husband of presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, isn’t exactly a puff piece, but I feel there are many punches being pulled in a piece that purports to explore how this man may be a liability to his wife’s campaign. Most of that exploration focuses on Bachmann’s professional irregularities and what kind of scandals may erupt, but I honestly think the voting public—even conservatives—have really grown past judging a woman’s intergrity as a politician by her husband’s career choices.  The political press may think this is still 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro’s candidacy was eclipsed by questions about her husband’s business dealings, but much has shifted since then, and female politicians are largely judged as individuals and not as wives. I didn’t really think that some of Todd Palin’s eccentricities or Bill Clinton’s past did much damage to either Sarah Palin or Hillary Clinton as candidates.  Palin sunk herself all on her own. 

That said, I don’t think the Bachmann marriage isn’t a major liability for the campaign.  It is, but not because of some complex legal issues regarding their prior business dealings.  The more obvious concern is their openness about having a fundamentalist patriarchal model of marriage, which will not only offend moderate voters who may be considering voting Republican, but also may not go over well with Republican women who vote in primaries. The only allusion in this Politico piece to the Bachmanns’ support of the “women, submit to your husbands” model of marriage is Michele’s jokes about how her husband wins all their arguments (he’s required to by the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible), but there’s far more damning evidence out there.  Libby Copeland covered this at Slate:

In a speech at a mega-church in the Minneapolis area back in 2006, Michele Bachmann explained her decision to pursue tax law. It wasn’t her choice, exactly. God had already told her to go to law school; God had also told her to marry a fellow named Marcus Bachmann. Now Marcus told her “to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.” This was not a particular desire of Michele’s (“Tax law? I hate taxes!”), but she was certain God was speaking through her husband. “Why should I go and do something like that?” she recalled thinking. “But the Lord says, ‘Be submissive wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands.’ ”

The religious dogma about wifely submission tends to be one of those polarizing things, where everyone who hasn’t completely bought into the dogma tends to reject it forcefully.  And this includes pretty much all Republican women (and some men perhaps) who aren’t fundamentalist Christians.  Which is, last I checked, about half of the party at least. They don’t get as much fawning attention from a Beltway media that still views Bible thumpers as intriguing weirdos, but they do exist. Women don’t need to self-identify as feminists or even be feminists to draw the line at wifely submission.  Even the Anglican church took the word obey out of the wedding vows nearly a century ago; the rejection of the ideal of wifely submission has been with us roughly as long as the vote.