On The "Submissive" Question

There’s a lot of chatter about the decision of the moderators in last night’s Republican debate to ask Michele Bachmann “As president, would you be submissive to your husband?” But for all the focus on whether or not the question is sexist, the real problem is that asking it mostly helps the candidate without shedding further light on anything important about their views.

While the question may have seemed sexist or unfair, the fact is that the question was premised on her own words. In 2006, Bachmann said she pursued a law degree because ““The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands.”

Here was Bachmann’s answer:

Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10th. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. And both he and I -- what submission means to us, if that's what your question is, it means respect.

I respect my husband. He's a wonderful, godly man, and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That's how we operate our marriage. We respect each other. We love each other.

And I've been so grateful that we've been able to build a home together. We have five wonderful children and 23 foster children. We've built a business together and a life together And I'm very proud of him.

It’s no surprise that Bachmann thanked the moderator who asked the question. Even though it was premised on Bachmann’s own statements, it allowed her to make it look like anyone who would suggest her religious views on gender might impact her doing her job as president was attacking her family.

Rather than being a "tough" question, this was a bit like FOX Anchor Chris Wallace’s asking whether Bachmann was a “flake,” which as Conor Friedersdorf pointed out at the time, sounded tough but was actually a softball question. While the phrasing of that question was less justified, it’s ultimately in the same league as a kind of softball question that allows Bachmann to make herself look as though she’s being unfairly held to a different standard as the other candidates.

Bachmann, among all the Republican candidates who have announced so far, has the best resentment factor—that is, she’s the candidate whose critics are more likely to strengthen her support by criticizing her, whether or not the criticism is legitimate. And Bachmann—from the jokes about her husband to needless concern trolling about migraines—has faced her share of unfair criticism. 

Much more disturbing frankly, is the fact that Bachmann doesn’t understand that the debt ceiling refers to previously incurred debts not future debt, and would refuse to raise it as president. Likewise, her contention that Americans don’t have constitutional rights is belied by more than a hundred years of jurisprudence and the language of the Constitution itself, which distinguishes between "persons" and "citizens." She believes in “freedom of choice” for lightbulbs but not for women to decide when they have children. She said the S&P downgrade was the result of a failure to “cut spending,” when in fact it was her party’s intransigence on taxes and political hostage taking that lead to S&P downgrading U.S. debt. These are all views she expressed in last night’s debate.

The submissive question was “fair,” in the sense that it was based on Bachmann’s own words. But it’s among the easiest questions for her to respond to, and the kind of question that ultimately plays to her political strengths. This isn’t a “tough” question for Bachmann, it’s a slow pitch right to the middle of the strike zone. 

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