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Dangers of a 'Submissive' Wife in Chief: Is a Vote for Michele Bachmann Really a Vote for Her Husband?

Only in America would the first female president be a woman who has promised to obey her man as Christ's representative on earth.

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here. 

If you vote for Michele Bachmann are you really voting for her husband, Marcus, the pray-away-the-gay psychologist? After all, in 2006 she said she took a degree in tax law, despite hating everything to do with taxes, because he told her to. "The Lord said, 'Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands,'" she told the crowd at a Minnesota megachurch. At the recent GOP debate in Iowa, her supporters in the audience booed when the Washington Examiner's Byron York reminded her of this episode and asked if she would be submissive to Marcus as president. But it was a perfectly reasonable question: people have a right to know who would really be calling the shots in a Bachmann administration. I can hear it now: "Darling, can you believe Paul Ryan wants Grover Norquist on the Supreme Court? Oh, well... If you really think so..." Nor was the question sexist, as some said. During a 2008 debate, Mike Huckabee was asked about an ad he signed supporting the Southern Baptist Convention's doctrine that wives should "graciously submit" to their husbands. Much like Bachmann, who answered by saying she has a wonderful marriage and that "submission" means "respect," Huckabee said it was really all about mutual love.

Let me go out on a limb here and say that Michele Bachmann is not going to become president. After all, as recently as 2007 some 30 percent of Republicans believed in evolution, so there must still be a few members of the reality-based community in there. Against much evidence, I continue to believe that the American people are not insane. But just in case I'm wrong, let me be the first to say it: only in America would the first female president be a woman who has promised to obey her man as Christ's representative on earth--and only in America would there be a debate about whether a such a woman can be a feminist. Yes, we are that screwed up. Naomi Wolf, for example, claims that reactionaries like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are the real feminists today. "The core of feminism is individual choice and freedom," she wrote recently, "and it is these strains that are being sounded now more by the Tea Party movement than by the left." Take that, Gloria Steinem! If it's hard to square "individual choice and freedom" with banning abortion, as Palin and Bachmann would like (and think how big a nanny state you'd need to accomplish that!), it's even harder to square feminism with wifely obedience to a husband as God's mouthpiece.

Liberal Christians have various ways of reinterpreting Ephesians 5:22, which exhorts women to "submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord." They note that St. Paul also enjoins husbands to love their wives, and may not have even written the passage, and is not, as Bachmann seems to think, "the Lord." But unfortunately, there are numerous other passages that support wifely submission: Colossians 3, Titus 2:5 and I Peter 3:1. "To love," anyway, is not parallel with "to submit," any more than "respect" is a synonym for "submission." And then there is that pesky business of identifying men with Christ and women with the church, i.e., Christ's worshipers, those lowly mortals he came to redeem from sin. I just don't see how you can get to equality from there.

And that, for Bachmann's hard-core supporters, may be the point. Michelle Goldberg, Sarah Posner and others have argued that Bachmann has ties to Christian dominionism, an extreme fundamentalism holding that the United States should be governed along strict and literal biblical principles. In The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza pointed out her admiration for Francis Schaeffer, another father of Christian theocratic ideology, and her promotion of J. Steven Wilkins's biography of Robert E. Lee, which describes slavery "in the pervasively Christian society which was the old South" as a benevolent relationship of "mutual respect" (that word again!).

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