Yes, They Really Asked This Question

If you missed last night’s Republican Presidential debate in Iowa, you missed one of the all-time most inappropriate and bizarre questions we’ve ever heard. As CNN explains:

Thursday night in the Fox News GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, congresswoman Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, was asked by columnist Byron York whether she would be “submissive to her husband” if she were elected president.

Before the congresswoman had a chance to answer, a chorus of boos rang down from the audience…

…The question of wives being submissive to their husbands comes from a passage in the New Testament in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. The letter was originally written in Greek, and there are various translations of the Greek work Paul uses.

In the New International Version translation of the Bible, the version most preferred by evangelical Christians and non-denominational churches, a camp Bachmann has said she belongs to, Ephesians chapter 2 verses 22-24 are translated as:

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.”

Bachmann answered the question gracefully, we must say, but we were as appalled as the live audience to even hear the way in which the question was asked. The question was related to comments Bachmann and family members made in a recent Washington Post article, a context that gets lost in all of this because of how little known that background is to the public. York later defended his question, as “The Fix” reports:

York himself responded on “Fox and Friends” Friday morning. “This is a serious and legitimate question about something she has said and believe me, if she progresses very far in the campaign process, she would have been asked this question,” he said. “And I personally thought she handled it very well. It was a very human moment for her.”

Human moment? Maybe…but this is the kind of question that needs to be asked much, much more gracefully, if at all, because it makes all of the Republican candidates look bad just by being in the same room. The problem with questions like this is that for an average voter watching last night, it made them think, Is this the kind of thing that Republican candidates are concerned about? It shames everyone on the stage to even be tangentially connected to this discussion.  

103 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. nancycronk says:

    Were they boohing the question, or the fact she said she was submissive to her husband?

    I think this is a very valid question. In some fundamentalist Christian and Islamic circles where the Bible is taken literally instead of as an esteemed cultural artifact, men are considered superior to women in public life and decision-making. It is important to know if she would defer to her husband’s judgment in times of war or when making important economic decisions (shuddering at the thought). She can’t have it both ways. She can’t pander to the Christian fundamentalist extremists and be seen as a credible public policy servant.  I do believe she evaded the question skillfully and gracefully, however. She is a tax lawyer, after all!

    • nancycronk says:

      Every religion has their extremes — on one end the literal fundamentalists, and on the other, the mystics and humanists.

    • Ralphie says:

      How many men were asked that question?

    • Colorado Pols says:

      The booing was because of the way it was asked, with the final line, “As President, would you be submissive to your husband?”

      It would have been far more appropriate to phrase it something like this: “Given your past comments…If you are elected President, would your husband be making major policy or political decisions?” If that is the point of the question, and it probably was, then it should be addressed directly. Asking “would you be submissive to your husband” is just weird.  

      • Fidel's dirt nap says:

        ten bucks.  I dare them.

      • nancycronk says:

        They asked, “As President…” not in her private life. I have tried and I cannot see why this question was seen as inappropriate or disrespectful, even in the slightest.

        Consider it in reverse. If Newt Gingrich said publicly, “My faith teaches husbands should be submissive to their wives”, the next logical question would be, “If you were elected President, would you be submissive to your wife?” This is a direct follow-up inquiry to the original statement.

        • Aristotle says:

          … is there proof that Bachmann’s “faith teaches husbands should be submissive to their wives”? (Your hypothetical, Nancy.)

          I don’t mean fundamentalism in general, I mean her denomination. Is she (or her pastor, or the official website of her church or denomination) on record endorsing this viewpoint.

          If you know of no such statement, I’d suggest that you have set up a straw man.

          • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

            The part about her being on record saying that her husband is head of household and she makes her career choices based on what he tells her to do?

            • Aristotle says:

              … it looks like the linked (but not quoted) article says she is. So, mea culpa. (That’s what I get for not following the links. Or watching the video.

              Apologies to Nancy, also.

              • nancycronk says:

                I looked up faith to see if I was wrong, too. Seems there are lots of different takes on it, from a personal set of beliefs, to a system of them — as in a religion. We’re both right. As a religious liberal, I tend to think of faith as being purely personal and forget most people don’t see it that way.

                Thanks for keeping me honest.  🙂

          • nancycronk says:

            Michelle Bachmann said it herself:

            Watch the last video on the page.  

            • nancycronk says:

              are you implying a person’s faith has to be a denomination, or a large, recognized religion? I have no idea if she identifies with a denomination or not, nor do I care. A person’s faith is very personal. Each person has their own faith (or aversion to faith), whether they are the only person with that faith, or if there are 2 billion others who share it. Perhaps you are confusing faith with creed? The important point of this story is, Michelle Bachmann herself states her faith believes women should be submissive to their husbands.  

              • Aristotle says:

                … my response to PC above.

                But in answer to your question, I was bringing up her denomination because, if she hadn’t said so herself, then it would be logical and fair, IMO, to ask candidates if they intend to apply their church’s teachings to public policy; e.g., it’s fair to ask a Catholic candidate if he or she is anti-choice, if that person has made no public declaration on the matter.

                I was operating under the assumption that Pols had posted all the salient points of this story in the body of their diary. Her quotation on the matter was alluded to, which I should have caught, but not stated outright.

                • nancycronk says:

                  I think it is fair to respectfully ask candidates how their personal faith will affect their decisions. Do you remember when people were upset when the first Muslim member of Congress won? They asked him if his allegiance to the Koran was more important to him than his allegiance to the USA. Why wouldn’t the same question be fair to ask a conservative Christian?

                  I take issue with the media focussing on the generalities or stereotypes of a given faith, however. For example, my Judaism is very different than that of Joe Lieberman’s. Edward Kennedy’s Catholicism was a far cry from the Catholocism practiced by Denver’s former Archbishop Chaput. I recently asked Aurora Mayor candidate Debbie Stafford the same question about how her faith would effect her role as Mayor. I think it is entirely relevant. Do you?  

                  • Aristotle says:

                    And, after watching the video, I have to say that I don’t think that York phrased it disrespectfully either. Her original quote was pretty blatant, but given the absurdity that a powerful woman like that is really “submissive,” I would guess that she was just throwing some red meat to her base back then. (I kinda think her response, that submission = respect, is a bit weird, and I’ll chalk it up to trying to have it both ways, that is, appear “submissive” to the fringe loonies who believes in that, while being a respected equal for the rest of us 21st Century types.)

                  • Ralphie says:

                    Do you remember when people were upset when the first Muslim member of Congress won? They asked him if his allegiance to the Koran was more important to him than his allegiance to the USA. Why wouldn’t the same question be fair to ask a conservative Christian?

                    It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

                    One of the reasons why some people (myself included) have a hard time taking you seriously is that you seem to have one set of ethical standards for people you agree with, and a whole different set for people you disagree with.

                    Wrong is wrong, then as well as now.

      • The realist says:

        She invited the question through her past statements, and past statements of family members.  I believe it’s a legitimate question in the world of right-wing, hard core religionist politicians.

  2. BlueCat says:

    but if context was provided, such as that she had not only stated in a general way that a wife should be submissive to the husband’s will but also that she had returned to school to specialize in tax law because, in her own words, her husband told her to, then it was legit. Voters should know whether or not her unelected husband would really be in charge, were she to be elected President.

    I say this as someone who thought all the twofer talk coming out of the Clinton campaign was entirely inappropriate as Hillary wasn’t being elected to anything. Also thought putting her in charge of health care with no particular qualifications in the field was no more appropriate than if he’d given it to a nephew. We don’t have co-presidency by marriage in our system, much less buck stops here presidency for husbands of submissive Christian wife presidents.

    • nancycronk says:

      Do you think First Spouses should have more serious duties than being fashion plates and host(esse)s? If so, what do you think those duties would be? I have heard that Eleanor Roosevelt influenced public policy for the better.  

  3. ProgressiveCowgirl says:

    We’re sticking up for Bachmann because we hope she’s the nominee and Obama can take a long nap in ’12 and still get reelected.

    Cognitive dissonance resolved, carry on Pols.

    • Colorado Pols says:

      Our point here is that questions like this make the entire field look bad because of how absurd they sound. An average viewer would think, “Why are they talking about this?”

      • The realist says:

        candidates for President, in the current world, would not think that at all.  There may have been millions of viewers who hold firmly to the belief that wives should be submissive to their husbands.

        • nancycronk says:

          When you meet some of my Republican relatives, you’ll get there are plenty of second-class women all over America. Millions and millions and millions of them. When I was canvassing in Arapahoe County in ’08, you would not believe how many women said they let their husband’s fill out their ballots and mail them in, or women who said, “I better fill mine out quickly before my husband gets to it. He’s and ‘R’ and I’m a ‘D'”. I’m still leery of mail-in ballots for this reason. Just because women are ID’d as Dems, it doesn’t mean their ballots are filled out that way. One of the men who told me he made all the political decisions in his home (and also said “Get the hell off my porch”) had a Sheriff deputy’s uniform on! It may be difficult for Denver-ites to imagine this, but half our country lives in the previous century in terms of gender roles.  

      • ProgressiveCowgirl says:

        Don’t you know they’re picking on her for her faith now? It’s anti-Christian bullying, like saying “happy holidays” or having a menorah on display next to a Christmas tree. Riling up the base behind Bachmann by making her look like the martyred true believer. I bet she sees a bounce from this.

  4. abraham says:

    That question is reminiscent of the blather about John Kennedy being beholden to the Pope because he was Catholic.  It is just as tacky and offensive as the Kennedy question was.

    Now, there are plenty of social issues that need to be asked of all the candidates in both parties because America is deeply divided over civil rights and human rights.  Let’s focus on the really important stuff that will factor into the candidate that I ultimately will support.

    • Early Worm says:

      But I disagree that it was offensive. A question, based on something she has said is fair game.  If the question misrepresents or misunderstands the context or the teaching behind her statement about her faith, it was her opportunity to explain.  Similarly, if the questions to Kennedy reflected a bias or anti-Catholic sentiment, the questions gave him the opportunity to address that bias head on.  

    • WitnessProtectionForGeeks says:

      1. Tacky

      2. Similar to JFK

      I will say though that when you want a christian centered government and you support a fundamentalist literal reading of the bible you do open yourself up to questions more secular candidates do not have to answer.  

  5. Kool-Aid Man says:

    If Bachmann thinks that we should base law on the Bible, then she should have to answer to that.  I’d additionally like to see every evangelical running for office asked if they believe the Book of Revelation to be true and if so would they work to speed or slow the arrival of the end times.

  6. GalapagoLarry says:

    You really think York wasn’t trying to get at the constitutionality of the missionary position in the White House?

  7. MADCO says:

    In a speech at a mega-church in the Minneapolis area back in 2006, Michele Bachmann explained her decision to pursue tax law. It wasn’t her choice, exactly. God had already told her to go to law school; God had also told her to marry a fellow named Marcus Bachmann. Now Marcus told her “to go and get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.” This was not a particular desire of Michele’s (“Tax law? I hate taxes!”), but she was certain God was speaking through her husband.

    “Why should I go and do something like that?” she recalled thinking. “But the Lord says, ‘Be submissive wives; you are to be submissive to your husbands.'”

    Having said that, it is a totally legitimate question to ask candidate Bachman whatinheck that means when it comes to her political leadership.

    It would be similar to asking about teaching creationism in public school as part of the  science curriculum.  Or asking  about whether a candidate believes in a religious filter to hold public office. Or a hundred other things that have been asked of hundreds of other candidates.

    Now- are religions sexist  that believe women are chattel to men, or that believe women are only in their right place in the home ?  Yes.

    But in the context of Mrs. Bachmann’s earlier explanation about an important decision in her life, it’s a political question. ANd relevant. And legitimate.

  8. Diogenesdemar says:

    Dear Agnostic,



    Dear confused,

    WTF indeed.

    First of all the passage is not from Ephesians, chapter 2, but Ephesians, Chapter 5.

    Secondly, this was a stupid, stupid question that no reasonable party should give quarter or comfort to in the context of any political debate in this country.  The appropriate answer would have been to smile, give no answer, and refuse to dignify this nonsense.  The second most appropriate answer would have been something along the lines of, “my personal faith is not an issue in my ability to perform the required functions of this, or any public office — your question is highly inappropriate.”

    But just for fun, let’s continue.  If you’re going to be an asshat and ask the only female candidate this stupid question, then in the interest of fairness you should go a little further and quote a bit more . . .

    25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her; 26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church.

    . . . and ask every one of the male candidates the following — Do you love your wife?    How do your actions in life sanctify your wife?  How do you love your wife as Christ loved His church?


    Dear Agnostic,

    Why should I listen to an agnostic?  How can an agnostic know about the Christian Bible?


    Dear Curious,

    Because unlike way too many self-proclaimed Christians who blindly follow some blithering idiot and accept his words “on faith,” I have actually taken the time to read this book (several times) so that although I can’t begin claim to understand it much at all, I do have a fairly good recollection as to what the words actually are.


    • nancycronk says:

      I think the point of this argument is this: the question to Bachmann had nothing to do with her religion, but everything to do with her religiosity.  

      • Diogenesdemar says:

        (. . . No, I haven’t the foggiest why I’m working to be so civil today . . .)

        You’re saying that when running for office in this country that it’s ok to self-identify (or not) as xyz (or something other, . . . or even nothing altogether), just so long as you aren’t too adherent to your beliefs.

        I guess you’d also agree with the Beej that it’s completely OK to run for office and self-identify as a Jew, just so long as you accept Jesus Christ as your personal saviour (and don’t act too Jewy otherwise, and are also willing to explain to him beforehand how any apparently Jewy hypothetical he can conjecture wouldn’t impact upon that office or the Beej’s sensibilities).

        • nancycronk says:

          Forgive me, Pols, for the long entry I am about to send.

          Dio, I am not saying that at all. I am saying having a religion is not necessarily the same thing as being “a believer”. I do not know your religion, Dio, but you seem to be speaking from a religion = belief paradigm.

          Christianity is based on belief. The Council of Nicene established a creed and early Christians vowed to believe a certain core code of beliefs. Prior to Jesus, Jews were Jews because of a shared history, culture, language, legal system and traditions. They might have also shared the same belief in one God, but that is not what defined them as Jews. (The Zoroastrians actually professed a belief in one god before Jews did, but most people are not aware of that historical fact.)

          Because of Nicene, most Christian denominations require, as a minimum, that to be Christian, a follower must believe that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, and that he was resurrected. Jesus’s teachings were all about belief in him being the son of G-d. (His teachings were very consistent with Rabbinical Judaism, with few exceptions, by the way. My mother was southern Baptist, and my Grandfather a deacon — I attended plenty of Sunday school. I converted to Judaism and studied Eastern religions later. I later took a course of study to become an Interfaith Officiant.)

          Judaism doesn’t have such a creed. I can be 100% Jewish and not believe in G-d, or I can believe in a very literal G-d of Leviticus, and still be Jewish. Most Jews are somewhere in between, saying things like, “I believe G-d is Mother Nature, or a loving force, or love. I don’t take the Bible literally”, etc. Judaism is not a religion based on belief, but on identity; belief is not what makes me, or anyone else, Jewish. Judaism has an(optional in my mind) belief system, and considers identity and kinship to be important. If I identify with Jews, love Jewish culture, and am proud to be a member of the larger Jewish family, I am Jewish. (Orthodox Jews would also add “and has a Jewish mother”.) No one who is Jewish — liberal or orthodox — is going to ask for my J-card based on my personal beliefs. There is a saying in Judaism, “It is better to not believe in G-d than to eat pork”. What does this mean? Live an observant life. Follow the commandments. Belief will come or it won’t — it doesn’t really matter. Just do the right thing.

          Hinduism is very similar in that way. It is based on 10,000 years of Hindu culture, traditions, and language. People believe all kinds of different things about the  supernatural, and some don’t believe in any of it — they are all still Hindu. They are a part of the Hindu culture by location of their birth or by their ancestry or by their practice, thus they are Hindu. Even if they believe in Jesus, or Muhammed or Buddha, they can still be Hindu if they want to be.

          Same with some of the Native American traditions. No one is going to say you are not Native American (if you are) if you don’t believe in spirits. If you honor the traditions of your ancestors and proudly identify with your culture and heritage, you are Native American. You can also be Native American by ethnicity only.

          Islam also has a creed. It is long. You can read it here.

          Unlike Christianity and Islam, there are lots of religions around the world for which belief is not a requirement. The only exception I know to this is Unitarian-Universalism, which is culturally Christian (a long heritage with uniquely UU traditions) yet gives its members permission to believe whatever they want to believe. (Like Judaism, Hinduism and others, UUs have no creed.) That is why they are non-creedal.

          Within each Christian denomination, there are those who believe in the literal interpretation, and some who believe in the mysticism, or spirituality or “essence of the teachings” only. Yet, there is an understanding that all Christians believe (something). Thus, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy and George W. Busch and Sarah Palin and Jerry Fallwell and Richard Nixon can all be devout Christians — some follow their creed literally, others metaphorically.

          Michelle Bachmann personally says she is a fundamentalist Christian, thus she prescribes to a literal interpretation of the Christian creed. Great. Beautiful. I have no problem with that. If it works for her, more power to her! Her faith teaches women must be submissive to their husbands. Since fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, it is perfectly appropriate to ask her if she would follow Biblical instruction literally while at work.

          If I ran for office (I’m not), and I publicly stated eating pork, or being gay, or working on Saturday is a sin (I wouldn’t), I’d expect people to ask how much I’d adhere to that while legislating. For me, the essence of the laws (feed the poor, be honest, care for the sick, etc.), are the basis of my membership in my faith, not my belief in the literal description of G-d found in the Bible). I would answer the question, “I believe in the Golden Rule. I respect other people’s faiths. I would not judge anyone for any of those things.” Joe Lieberman, also Jewish, might answer differently. Both answers would be Jewish.

          Hope this makes sense, Dio.

          In other words, Michelle Bachmann brought this on herself by talking about her own religiosity.

          Last, as much as I’d love to know what you mean by “being Jewy”, whatever you have going on with BJ is between you and BJ.  

          • Diogenesdemar says:

            might work for a grad school treatise, but hasn’t a chance with the hoi polloi in the real world.

            Good luck finding more than 5% of Christians who can tell you even one thing about Nicene.  (“Nicene?  I know.  Isn’t that that gritty French mustard?  Hate that stuff.”)  And, better luck finding 5% of that 5% who will agree with you on what Nicene dictates, and how much that effects any of what they should or shouldn’t believe.  (“Hey, wait a minute buster, you gotta believe this stuff — it’s the law of Nicene.” “Hold it, what about Hammurabi”?)

            Since fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, it is perfectly appropriate to ask her if she would follow Biblical instruction literally while at work.

            Bunk.  No, it isn’t.  This isn’t any more appropriate than to ask Joe Liebermann whether he would advocate for the end of pork subsidies, require separate dishes for meat and dairy at State dinners, feel the need to outlaw the ham-and-cheese lobster roll, or would perform work on the Sabbath.

            What does this mean? Live an observant life. Follow the commandments.

            Does this mean that generic candidate Goldsteinmannfeld should be asked whether he would advocate for the stoning of adulterous wives or daughters (out of “obedience” to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob)?

            And, “Ms. Bachmann brought this on herself” — to a large extent I agree with that.  I personally hate feeding this religion-(creeded or creedless or identity selected)-as-qualification-for-office beast from either end.  When Ms. Bachmann, Mr. Perry, or anyone else for that matter, starts speaking about their faith/religion/obedience-to-God’s-Law (or worse, infers a moral and qualitative superiority because their opponent is of some lesser faith/religion/obedience), I wish someone in the audience would have the courage to remind them that:  1.) running for office is akin to interviewing for a job; you probably don’t want to answer a question about your plans for increasing sales at work by reminding the interviewer of your Sunday School attendance (or suggesting that the other applicants might feed babies to Baal).  and, 2) we don’t have a religious test for office in this country, so your puny faith/religion/obedience-to-God is at least as irrelevant to your candidacy as it likely is to God Herself (if she existed, regardless of when She was created, and by whom).

            I guess I’m an ecumenical.  I find the great-ball-of-fire-that-rises-in-my-back-yard-and-travels-across-the-home-of-the-ravens-until-it-falls-over-the-mountains (and whose name I am forbidden to speak, or even think in my mind . . . oh great, Nancy, . . . another twenty five eons in the pit of sulfurous doom . . . ) is awe inspiring.   But, I also personally have great respect for Zeus, and will run for cover whenever I hear thunder, . . . unless I’m carrying my lucky St. Zarathustra medallion, or it’s Thor’s day.

            • nancycronk says:

              If Lieberman or the other hypothetical Jewish candidate made it a point to say they do not work on Saturday for religious reasons, it would be perfectly appropriate for someone to ask them if they planned on working on Saturday if they became President.

            • nancycronk says:

              I personally hate feeding this religion-(creeded or creedless or identity selected)-as-qualification-for-office beast from either end.

              Completey agree! I would have no problem with an Atheist President. I am only concerned with a person’s religion to the extent it dictates their adherence (again, that religiosity word). I’m more concerned with demonstrated ethics than identity and/or belief.  

            • sxp151 says:

              Wait, that’s not already outlawed?

  9. Irish Patti says:

    I think that anyone who suffers the delusion of an imaginary invisible sky fairy controlling the world, should be disqualified from office, because believing in things that don’t exist is a mental illness.  

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