This week’s issue of The New Yorker features a long profile of 2012 Presidential candidate and Minnesota House Representative Michele Bachmann. The article’s subtitle is “The Making of a Republican Front-runner,” which helps underline something exceptionally scary: Michele Bachmann is a current front-runner in the race to become the most powerful public official on earth.
One of the primary themes of Ryan Lizza’s must-read piece is that Michele “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.” Lizza adds: “Her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature, including Sarah Palin, to whom she is inevitably compared.”
That’s absolutely correct. But the important point is not that Bachmanns’s candidacy represents a politico-religious first — it’s not unique that she is a top-tier presidential candidate who adheres to a certain brand of evangelical Christianity. Rather, the important point is that her politics are extreme and incredibly extreme, depending on the social or economic issue in question.
Consider, for instance, Bachmann’s unbridled contempt for all things gay and gay rights:
“Bachmann said in 2004 that being gay is “personal enslavement,” and that, if same-sex marriage were legalized, “little children will be forced to learn that homosexuality is normal and natural and that perhaps they should try it.” Speaking about gay-rights activists, that same year, she said, “It is our children that is the prize for this community.”
There is still lots of homophobia in mainstream American politics today, yes, but imagine Michele Bachmann debating Barack Obama on her claim that homosexuality is a “personal enslavement” and reflects an insidious social engineering conspiracy targeting little children. Are we too desensitized by loud Tea Party irrationality to doubt that most Americans would be shocked by such statements?
Recently, Representative Bachmann’s husband Marcus Bachmann has received a great deal of media scrutiny for offering “gay conversion therapy” at his two Christian counseling centers in Minnesota. In light of this news, I wasn’t surprised to read this vignette in Lizza’s New Yorker profile:
Marcus Bachmann plopped down on the seat next to me, in the back of the plane. He pointed at my laptop and asked if he could take a look. “All I want to know is what they’re saying about me,” he said. “Newsweek came up with the word ‘silver fox.’ Tell me what ‘silver fox means.”
“Do you want me to tell you honestly?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t tell me it’s something gay!” he said. “Because I’ve been called that before.” Marcus is a psychologist who runs a clinic that employs people Michele described in 2006 as “Biblical world-view counsellors,” who “reach out and try to bring the medicine of the Gospel to come and heal people.”
I explained that “silver fox” probably had more to do with the color of his hair.
“O.K., I can handle that,” he said. Tera, the assistant, assured him that it was a positive term.
Michele Bachmann has warned reporters that her husband’s private professional life is off-limits. But this is an unfair, knee-jerk complaint, given the real harm for which Marcus Bachmann should be held squarely responsible. “Reparative therapy” has been criticized and discredited by leading medical and clinical authorities, including the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the National Association of School Psychologists. What these organizations realize is that reparative therapy can be and has been dangerous for its clients, and has many times prompted depression and thoughts of suicide. So, it’s downright sad that the partner of a now presidential front-runner — who we know now takes great umbrage at being called gay (“don’t tell me it’s something gay!”) — can get away with institutionalizing a service that clearly harms young Americans.
In any event, Representative Bachmann shouldn’t be allowed to submit the excuse that her husband’s work is fully in the private sphere — and therefore shouldn’t be examined by the news media or her political opponents. And that’s because Marcus Bachmann’s “clinics” are publicly and taxpayer supported: as NBC News uncovered recently, Bachmann & Associates (that’s the name of Marcus Bachmann’s counseling enterprise) has been collecting Medicaid payments totaling over $137,000 for its services since 2005.
$137,000 isn’t chump change. That’s six figures that the federal government and the Minnesota state government have given an institution that hurts young people. Even if these Medicaid reimbursements weren’t for reparative therapy services, it’s outrageous that taxpayer money would go towards maintaining and propping up an institution that hurts young Americans. If I were accompanying Michele Bachmann on the campaign trail, I’d think that it would be completely in the public interest to find out from her why she’s so virulently anti-government when it comes to public money supporting people truly in need…but on the other side of things, it’s apparently totally acceptable that the government is supporting her husband on a kind of ideological dole.