I often tease my friend who will run for president some day that our friendship will end up costing him dearly. Reporters will dig up our connection and will explain what a freak I am and how that disqualifies him to be president. That's kind of how it goes now if you run for office, apparently, no matter where you fall politically. We see this kind of guilt by association throughout a new piece on Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) from The New Yorker, a much talked-about profile that includes some bizarre connections and strange inferences.
Apparently this is the week for targeting Bachmann, as there is much talk about the notorious Newseek cover, which we'll deal with in a later post. Some of you may resonate with Slate's Jessica Grose when she says, "I hate it when Michele Bachmann makes me defend her," but hold on to your hats for a Leblancian edit (bolded phrases are my own) of the religion-related parts of New Yorker's smear by Ryan Lizza.
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.
Oh really? What's his basis for this claim?
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. 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.”
Bachmann wasn't the first to consider sin enslavement, even if you might agree or disagree with her interpretation. How does Lizza know that her campaign will be focus on a set of beliefs? Is the media making this the focus?
...The trip [to Israel] gave her a connection to Israel, a state whose creation, many American evangelicals believe, is prophesied in the Bible. (St. Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, says that Jews will one day gather again in their homeland; modern fundamentalists see this, along with the coming of the Antichrist, as presaging the Rapture.)
Who are modern fundamentalists and what do they have to do with Bachmann? Is there any evidence that Bachmann holds the idea of pretribulation, midtribulation, or posttribulation rapture? Or maybe she's postmillennial or even amillennial.
These ideas get complex, so things get muddy while trying to summarize an entire belief system on eschatology in a paragraph when the reporter doesn't offer evidence for those beliefs.
In the fall of 1975, Bachmann enrolled at Winona State University, a small school in southeastern Minnesota, where she became more devout and tried to lead her dormmates to Christianity.
Regular readers know we hate the d-word. And, of course, part of being an evangelical often means evangelism, so this isn't exactly breaking news or terribly unusual.
Then the reporter examines the beliefs of the late Francis Schaeffer, who was kind of a big deal for many evangelicals. Now, Bachmann has said before that Schaeffer has strongly influenced her views, so the association here makes sense. What's strange is how the reporter portrays him as fringe. Here's the reporter's explanation for part of a video Schaeffer produced.
In the sixth episode, a mysterious man in a fake mustache drives around in a white van and furtively pours chemicals into a city’s water supply, while Schaeffer speculates about the possibility that the U.S. government is controlling its citizens by means of psychotropic drugs.
How much of that video consisted of speculation? Is there any indication that Bachmann holds this belief?
Lizza uses Schaeffer's son Frank to explain his father's beliefs, but he should at least acknowledge that Frank has also taken his own ideological shift. For example, Frank recently blamed the shootings in Norway on conservative evangelicals and warns that evangelicals could be planning similar attacks in the U.S. Hmm.
In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed.
I'll defer to Ben Domenech.
... I find this depiction of Schaeffer’s position is just a vicious smear.
What Schaeffer called for were acts of civil disobedience if Roe v. Wade was not overturned. He repeatedly and specifically stressed that violence was not justified – “overreaction can too easily become the ugly horror of sheer violence”, he wrote.
Oops. You don't have to agree with Schaeffer to wonder whether he is unfairly maligned in this piece. The reporter then jumps to Bachmann time at Oral Roberts' former law school.
For several years, the school could not get accreditation, because students were required to sign a “code of honor” attesting to their Christian belief and commitment.
Does anyone know whether this is really the reason why the school couldn't get accredited? This surprises me, considering that lots and lots of colleges that have variations on a religious "code of honor" are accredited (BYU anyone?).
The law review published essays by Schaeffer and Rousas John Rushdoony, a prominent Dominionist who has called for a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law—execution for adulterers and homosexuals, for example—would be instituted.
Here are more attempts to prove guilt by association. I'm guess that, for example, our friend Mr. Brad Greenberg does not believe everything a professors who write for a law review from UCLA produces, but maybe he does. Did the law review publish essays calling to execute homosexuals and adulterers? Did she believe these claims in any way?
Lizza quotes professor John Eidsmoe whom Bachmann worked for at Oral Roberts (ORU).
When I asked him if he believed that Bachmann’s views were fully consistent with the prevailing ideology at O.R.U. and the themes of his book, he said, “Yes.” Later, he added, “I do not know of any way in which they are not.”
That's a pretty generic question he's answering. It doesn’t get into if she believes in criminalizing adultery or homosexuality, which seems to insinuate. Then Lizza touches on Bachmann's foster parenting.
Bachmann’s motivation seems to have been to save the girls, in the same way that she had been saved.
Again, not terribly shocking for a Christian foster parent, but even if this was her motivation, how she did this would be more relevant. Is there any evidence that she coerced the children in any way?
In the late nineteen-nineties, William Cooper, a wealthy bank executive and conservative activist, became chairman of the Minnesota Republican Party, and started to demand more ideological purity. “He began a purge of people like me,” Laidig said. “No abortion, so if your daughter is raped or if you find out your child is going to be permanently a vegetable you have the kid. Not every abortion is birth control, O.K.? So really hard-core stuff.”
Maybe he did, but did this Republican leader really want to "purge" people that supported abortion in cases of rape and if child is a permanent "vegetable?” How does this apply to Bachmann?
Here's another journalist using guilt by association with a very tenuous basis on reality to take shots. I could go on and on about the problems in the piece and how it could have been improved, but for now, we'll ponder why these sections weren't edited more thoroughly.
Pieces like this do little to illuminate Bachmann's beliefs or how they apply to her policy stances, but NPR doesn't mind highlighting it (audio will be available later today). Better watch out who you're friending on Facebook. You never know what they said 20 years ago that will come back to haunt you in your next job interview.