How can a political freak not have fun with a fellow political freak—oh she of the Goth eyeliner (which only serves to accentuate her cheerful bats-in-the-belfry look) and psycholbin-inflected understanding of American history, someone given to hiding behind bushes to spy on an open protest and screaming about lesbian bathroom-kidnap plots—like Michele Bachmann?
I’ve had a lot of fun with the Republican representative from the sixth district of Minnesota, and, frankly, I expect to continue doing so. She may be an ideological menace who would make a terrible, terrible president, but she’s so manifestly unsuited to the job that I have no real worries about her delivering an inaugural address in January 2013.
So I feel free to mock her at will.
There is, however, one (semi-? sur-?) real issue that her candidacy brings to the political debate, that of the influence of her husband, Marcus. Ms. Bachmann, you see, proclaims adherence to the “wifely submission” model of marriage.
How she and her hub run their home is, in the main, not my business, and the practice of a spouse influencing a politician’s decisions is hardly new (if only John had listened to Abigail’s admonition to “remember the ladies”. . .). But outside of Edith Wilson’s alleged takeover of the presidency during husband Woodrow’s stroke-induced decline, it’s generally conceded that whatever the influence, the president is still is charge.
If, however, that politician states outright that she is not in charge, then what are constituents and voters to decide?
Marcus Bachmann, after all, isn’t the one taking the oath of office. He makes no promises to “uphold and defend the Constitution”, nor does he hold any responsibility to his wife’s constituents. He is in charge without being accountable.
Now, given that Rep. Bachmann stated in 2006 that “The Lord says be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands” a month before she was elected for the first time to the House, and has been re-elected twice, it’s entirely possible that her constituents decided they were just fine with voting for someone who answered to her husband before she answered to them. Maybe that they both claimed to answer to God was sufficient assurance that even if this greater accountability to the Lord translated into a lesser accountability to the people, the greater was for the better.
The issue of authority in marriage is a big issue in conservative Christian circles. The “complementarian” versus “egalitarian” models of marriage each (apparently) finds support in scripture, and even those marriages which claim the husband as head can look awfully equal. And with or without any scripto-ideological positioning, marriage can be a bugger.
Given these complexities, it’s possible that those who hear “submissiveness” translate the term into “agreement”, and are thus unbothered by any notion that Mr. Bachmann might tell Mrs. Bachmann what to do; they’re simply a married couple, like any other, trying to keep it together.
That’s one end of the interpretive spectrum, anyway. At the other end, however, is the possibility that the Mister is in charge, and that what he says, goes, period. No oaths of office, no promises to constituents, matters as much as the God-infused authority of the Man of the House.
I’ll take the cynical middle course: Rep. Bachmann may see no conflict in choosing amongst her various accountabilities—her God, her husband, the Constitution, the citizens in her district—because these constituencies all line up. That is, because she doesn’t recognize that there might be other legitimate interests, because she doesn’t acknowledge the existence of those who legitimately (i.e., are motivated by something other than hatred or ignorance or some sort of anti-American bias) oppose her, she doesn’t have to reckon with the mess of pluralism—which is to say, the mess of American and global politics today.
Nope, she’s just able serenely to float above it all, hand-in-hand with her hubby, utterly unable and unwilling to engage in the realities of life as Other people live it.
We’re not real to her, and thus not to be taken seriously.
Which I guess frees us not to take her seriously, either.
h/t Jill Lawrence, The Daily Beast; Jason Horowitz, The Washington Post; Molly Worthen, New York Times Magazine