Is Michele Bachmann Submissive?

The Tea Party queen was asked whether she would defer to her husband as president. Leslie Bennetts says it’s an important question—one the Republican candidate shouldn’t be allowed to deflect so easily.

08.12.11 3:09 PM ET

Nice try, Michele, but no cigar.

And so far, the same might be said for the national press. As the 2012 presidential campaign gets underway, it looks as if it’s going to be a long, hard slog.

When Republican presidential candidates faced off Thursday night in the Iowa debate that set the stage for Saturday’s straw poll, it was a conservative columnist who asked Rep. Michele Bachmann a crucial question: what did she mean by her vow to be submissive to her husband?

The audience booed the question, which came from Byron York of the Washington Examiner. Bachmann smiled and said, “Thank you for that question, Byron. What submission means to me—if that’s what your question is—it means respect.”

No, Congresswoman, in fact, it doesn’t. Words have specific meanings, and your definition is incorrect, just as your answer to the question was disingenuous and obfuscatory. But so far, nobody is calling you on it.

From the outset, this whole issue was a problem Bachmann herself created; recalling that she hated the idea of pursuing a degree in tax law, she said she did so only because her husband told her to. “The Lord says, ‘Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands,’” she explained.

The Bachmann family is entitled to its belief system—one apparently shared by Michele’s brother-in-law, who has reinforced Michele’s description of her marriage to Marcus Bachmann with similar reference to theology: “He is her husband. The husband is to be the head of the wife, according to God,” said Peter Bachmann.

But while she’s entitled to define her religious beliefs however she wants, Michele Bachmann is not entitled to weasel out of an important question about presidential power the way she’s done so far—nor should the national press corps permit her to do so. And yet on this morning’s Today Show, Lester Holt repeatedly asked the wrong follow-up questions in his postdebate interview with Bachmann.

Referring to York’s query about submission, Holt asked: “Are you happy the question was asked? Did it need clarification?”

“I was happy that I was able to talk about my wonderful husband,” Bachmann replied.

“Was it important to clarify it, and do you think you did clarify your thoughts about it?” Holt persisted.

Bachmann parried smoothly, once again equating submission with respect. “I respect my husband. He is a wonderful, godly man, and he respects me,” she said.

But Holt was asking the wrong questions, and he shouldn’t have let her get away with evading the central issue here, which is very simple: if American voters elect her as president, or vice president and therefore a heartbeat away from the presidency, who will be making the decisions—Michele Bachmann or her husband? A woman who pursues an entire career she hates the idea of, just because her husband told her to, is not a woman who should be occupying the Oval Office—or anything remotely near it.

My Webster’s dictionary defines submission as “submitting to the authority or control of another,” and to submit as “to yield to governance or authority.” A synonym given for submissive is “compliant,” and among those given for submit is “yield” and “defer.”

But whether you call it submitting or yielding or deferring, it’s not remotely the same thing as respecting. I respect my 19-year-old son and my 22-year-old daughter, but I do not submit or yield or defer to their authority. Big difference, as they will be happy to tell you.

And American voters have every right to know whether Bachmann will submit to her husband’s authority, as decreed by her understanding of Christian doctrine. If she thinks this is her job as a wife, that’s her private business inside her own home, but nobody should give her the job of president of the United States.

Moreover, if the Bachmanns have spent more than three decades of marriage with Marcus telling Michele what to do, and that’s a modus operandi she still believes in, she shouldn’t be serving in Congress either. If Marcus is ultimately in charge, the Bachmanns should just be honest about the fact that hubby is running the show, in which case he should be the candidate rather than his “submissive” wife.

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The whole flap recalls the 1960 presidential election, in which John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism became an issue. The nation had never elected a Catholic president, and Senator Kennedy was challenged on whether he would, if elected president, answer to the Vatican. “I do not speak for my Church on public matters—and the Church does not speak for me,” said Kennedy, the nation’s only Catholic president to date.

The nation has never elected a woman president either, and given the insistence of Christian theology on male supremacy, female candidates who put that religion front and center in their campaigns should be required to explain what that means in terms of how they would govern, if elected.

Facing her own questions about the ultimate authority in her decision making, Michele Bachmann should be required to clarify the issue with precision.