Michele Bachmann is the Most ____ Woman in Politics
Eight ways to look at the sixth-district congresswoman
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PERSPECTIVE 3: IRRITATING
In comic books, it’s easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. That may explain why Ken Avidor, a blogger, illustrator, transit activist, and comic-book artist from Minneapolis, figures he’s got Bachmann pegged.
“She’s bad news for Minnesota,” Avidor says. “Thanks to Michele Bachmann and all her crazy antics, we don’t have a Republican party that’s credible anymore. She says crazy stuff. Who do you believe? Who’s telling you the truth?”
Bachmann first caught Avidor’s attention and roused his anger when, as a state senator, she voted in favor of freeway expansions that he believed negatively impacted his south Minneapolis neighborhood. Later, news of Bachmann’s outspoken opposition to gay marriage and fundraising support for a controversial Annandale-based Christian punk-ministry group, You Can Run But You Cannot Hide, pushed Avidor over the edge. He began posting random, ranting messages detailing his frustration with Bachmann’s legislative moves on his personal blog.
Other Bachmann opponents took notice, and eventually Avidor was invited to contribute to Dump Bachmann, an online political blog dedicated to tracking the congresswoman’s every move. The website, founded in 2004 by Eva Young, a Minneapolis resident and political activist who describes herself as “more of an independent than a liberal,” chronicles Bachmann’s votes, quotes, appearances, and fundraising. Young sees the blog as a way to hold the congresswoman accountable for her actions. She views Dump Bachmann contributors as members of the Fifth Estate, keeping tabs on the public record of an elected official. And Young believes that record is one of intolerance and misinformation.
“I had another political blog,” Young explains. “I realized I was putting up a lot of posts that were about Bachmann. I was irritated that the mainstream media wasn’t covering how extreme she was. I wanted to get the truth out there, so I started a Bachmann-only site. It’s my goal to make everything that she does and says available online—so it doesn’t just go away.”
The record is important, but Young also has a larger mission that’s evident in her blog’s title: One way or another, she would like to see Bachmann leave public office.
These days, Avidor is Dump Bachmann’s biggest contributor. He posts something new—YouTube videos, audio from radio interviews, snippets from news articles or editorials—practically every day, sometimes even more than once a day. His hope is that Bachmann will eventually hang herself with her own words, somehow letting loose with a comment or action so outrageous that everyone except her most die-hard supporters will condemn her actions. He laughs: “I’m waiting for the Titanic to hit the iceberg.”
PERSPECTIVE 4: MOTHERLY
Marcus bachmann, a gentle bear of a man with a genial smile and a ready, engaging laugh, says that the very thing that unnerves some people about his wife is what attracted him to her in the first place.
“Michele has always been a very passionate person,” he says. “She throws her whole being into the things she cares about.” Though Michele’s critics often find her intensity unnerving, Marcus says, “Her passion and boundless energy inspires me—and it inspires other people, too. I think that’s what makes her such a great leader.”
But Michele Bachmann hasn’t always been the political leader that she is today. In the mid-1970s, when Marcus first met her, they were students at what was then known as Winona State College. Michele was just Michele Amble, a petite, pretty girl from Anoka who was serious about her studies and committed to her Christian values.
It didn’t take long for Marcus to recognize the passion in Michele. “You could see it in her eyes,” he recalls. “You still can.”
The pair married a few months after graduation, on September 10, 1978. A good student who had shown an early interest in politics and government, Michele went on to earn a law degree at Oral Roberts University and a post-doctorate in tax law at the College of William and Mary. Marcus earned a master’s and then a PhD in clinical psychology. Today, he runs Bachmann & Associates, a Christian counseling practice with offices in Burnsville and Lake Elmo.
The couple waited four years after getting married to have their first child, but a big family was always their goal. As Michele was building her career—first at the U.S. Department of the Treasury in Washington, D.C., then as a tax-litigation attorney in the Treasury field office in St. Paul—she began building her dream family. After the birth of her fourth child, Michele quit her job to stay home full-time.
“I was maxed out,” she says. “I had all these balls in the air that I was juggling. My husband was close to completing this PhD and he was in private practice, so I finally realized my dream, which was to be a mom of a big happy family.” She says she relished her role as stay-at-home mom, making large family meals, keeping a clean house, and even homeschooling her youngest children.
Marcus says he resists analyzing members of his own family, but he believes that Michele, a child of divorce, wanted to create a traditional Leave It to Beaver–style home for her children—something she never had when she was growing up. “Before we married, we talked very deeply about life, and in a very transparent and authentic way she shared with me about her parents’ divorce and the difficulty that that presented to her.” Marcus says. “What she was looking for in a husband was clearly stability, a person of character. She saw that stability in me and really that was an attraction.”
While their children were growing up, the Bachmanns attended Salem Lutheran, a Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod church, in Stillwater. Their five biological children attended Salem Lutheran School. It was through their church that the family first learned about becoming foster parents. Eventually, they fostered 23 teenage girls—as many as four at a time—through a private agency.
The Bachmanns’ foster children attended public school, and Michele was alarmed by what she read in some of the materials they brought home. “I saw the emphasis was changing from when I was in public school,” recalls Michele, a 1974 graduate of Anoka High School. “The emphasis seemed to be on teaching political correctness as a substitute for academic knowledge.”
In 1993, she helped launch New Heights Charter School, a K-12 school designed for at-risk kids in Stillwater. Initially, Michele served on the school’s board of directors, but she quit when a parent questioned the board’s efforts to establish classes on creationism and Christian principles. In 1999, Michele ran for the Stillwater school board as part of a slate of GOP-backed candidates. She was defeated.
PERSPECTIVE 5: FOCUSED
You could say that Michele and Marcus Bachmann’s relationship was founded on their commitment to the anti-abortion movement. Way back in the mid-1970s, the two college students were still just friends when they attended a film screening sponsored by Winona State College’s Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. The movie series, titled How Should We Then Live?, was directed by the late Francis Schaeffer, an author and filmmaker who is considered by many to be an influence on prominent members of the Christian Right, including Evangelical Christian minister Timothy LaHaye and Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue.
Schaeffer’s films, with their bleak vision of modern society and commitment to biblical absolutism, weren’t exactly romantic first-date material. But for Michele and Marcus, witnessing Schaeffer’s powerful visual arguments was an eye-opening experience that brought them closer together. “From both an intellectual but also from a spiritual perspective that film really changed our lives,” Marcus recalls. “We both already understood the value of human life, but that film just really turned a key in both of us that said ‘pro life.’ We really sensed an awareness of the sanctity of life from pre-born to natural death.”
After college, Michele Bachmann’s commitment to anti-abortion activism remained strong. She made no bones about her position during her first run for the Minnesota Senate. In fact, her stance on the issue was front and center in her campaign.
“When she was beginning her political career, I knew that there was a real determination in Michele,” recalls Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. “I saw real conviction in her. Michele talks about the unborn pretty regularly. She was part of the life movement before she got involved in politics. She’s got a real love of children and babies and kids. That’s always been a part of who she is.”
As a state senator, Bachmann sponsored the Positive Alternatives Act, legislation that ultimately provided $2.4 million in state Department of Health grants to programs that support, encourage, and assist women in carrying their pregnancies to term and caring for their babies after birth. Among the largest grant recipients in the first funding cycle, from 2006 to 2008, was the Stillwater-based St. Croix Valley Life Care Center, which received $266,600. In the subsequent cycle, the center’s grant increased to $295,751.
Sally Framke, the executive director at St. Croix Valley Life, estimates that the current grant accounts for about half of the annual budget at her seven-employee organization. “I love Michele Bachmann,” Framke says. “We all do. She’s out there on the frontlines, really fighting for life.”
Shortly after arriving in Washington, Bachmann introduced H.R. 4852, the Positive Alternatives Act, based on her work in Minnesota. Her actions were blocked when she attempted to tack Positive Alternatives onto the health-care bill, but she has told her supporters that she’s not giving up. “She did it not for her own glory but because she truly believes that women deserve better than abortion,” Fischbach explains. “They need help, options, and support.”
While Bachmann’s supporters like to talk about the support and options her activism provides for women, Linnea House, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, says the opposite is actually true. “She’s working to limit women’s options, to control their access to basic health care,” House says. “If you were to look and see where she gets her campaign money, you would see that money is coming in from organizations that are on the extreme end of the choice issue.” According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Bachmann’s campaign received $8,300 from anti-abortion groups between June 2009 and June 2010, making her the second-largest recipient of donations from such groups among members of Congress during that period.
Marcus Bachmann says anyone who questions his wife’s commitment to ending abortion should look at her history of providing a home for nearly two-dozen teenage foster girls—several of whom were unmarried and pregnant. She doesn’t just say that abortion is bad, she does something to help those who might feel it’s their only option. “While we were taking on the foster girls, it eventually got to a point where there was so many of us in the house that we couldn’t even fit around the kitchen table,” Marcus recalls, shaking his head and chuckling. “The foster-care agency gave us a group foster-care license, and we expanded our kitchen to make room for more.”