Sunday, August 14, 2011

Michele Bachmann: Republicans Reap What they Sow

As the Republican Party’s presidential contender field begins to narrow, the leading candidates provide a snapshot of what the future could hold should one of them be elected president of the United States.  Apparently many Republicans have their heads in the sand and are pretending the leading candidates are really not that radical.  Think again. In this post and then following two, I’ll discuss what appear to be the top three Republican candidates for President.

Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman from Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District and Chair of the Tea Party Caucus in the US House of Representatives won the Iowa Straw Poll by 152 votes over Ron Paul, who will never actually run for President, but he is often a refreshing gadfly.  Friends around the US and even some from Europe have been asking me how Minnesota could have given rise to such an extremist candidate as Bachmann, who some think of as a weird fringe candidate.  She is from Waterloo, Iowa, which had a population around 60,000 when Bachmann lived there, but that's not an excuse.  Eastern Iowa is strongly Democratic while western Iowa is strongly Republican.  Waterloo is in East Central Iowa, and Bachmann says her parents were Democrats.  After her parents divorced her mother moved the family to Anoka, Minnesota where her mother worked in a bank. Michele graduated from Anoka High School in 1974 and, after graduation, spent time working on a kibbutz in Israel.  In 1978 she graduated from Winona State University in southern Minnesota with a B.A. in political science and English. The mid-range of SAT scores of Winona State graduates is from 440-600 (compare that with Barrack Obama’s alma matter, Harvard 700-790).  Nearly all Harvard undergraduates complete their BA or BS (97%) while 25% of Winona State undergraduates finish their bachelor’s degree in four years.

In 1979, Bachmann was a member of the first class of the O.W. Coburn School of Law in Oklahoma, then a part of Oral Roberts University (ORU). Later Coburn was placed on probation for discriminatory practices.  While there, Bachmann studied with John Eidsmoe whom she described in 2011 as "one of the professors who had a great influence on me". Bachmann worked as a research assistant on Eidsmoe's book Christianity and the Constitution, which argues that the United States was founded as a Christian theocracy, and should become one again. Eidsmoe addressed an event commemorating Alabama’s Secession Day where he told an interviewer that it was Alabama's “constitutional right to secede,” and that “ Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than did Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster.”   April, 2010, Eidsmoe was disinvited from a Tea Party rally in Wausau, Wisconsin, because of these statements.  In 1986 Bachmann received a J.D. degree from Oral Roberts University. She was a member of the final graduating class of the law school at ORU. Since Coburn lost its accreditation, it unclear whether Bachmann retained her J.D. status, though she includes it on her resume’. The ORU law school was ranked 136th in the country, where 60 percent of graduates failed the bar exam (Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, June 22, 2011), not stellar background for a would-be president. 

While still a Democrat, Michelle and her then-fiancé Marcus Bachmann were inspired to join the pro-life movement by Francis Schaeffer’s 1976 Christian documentary film.  They prayed outside of clinics and engaged in “sidewalk counseling,” a form of harassment in which antiabortion activists harried women entering abortion clinics in an attempt to dissuade women from obtaining abortions.

In 1988, Bachmann received a Master’s degree in tax law from the William & Mary School of Law.  She recently said that she was strongly urged to study tax law by her husband Marcus Bachmann to whom she felt she must submit according to her evangelical beliefs.  From 1988 to 1993, she was an attorney working for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, a federal agency that she later said she strongly opposed.  She left her position with the IRS to become a full-time mother when her fourth child was born.

Bachmann and her husband provided foster care for 23 teenage girls. The Bachmanns were licensed from 1992 to 2000 to provide for to three foster children at a time; the last child arrived in 1998. The Bachmann’s began by providing short-term care for girls with eating disorders. The Bachmann home was legally defined as a treatment home, with a daily reimbursement rate per child from the state of Minnesota with federal Medicaid money.

The Bachmanns were longtime members of Salem Lutheran Church in Stillwater, MN east of Minneapolis on the Wisconsin border. She and her husband withdrew their membership on June 21, 2011, just before she officially began her presidential campaign.  Salem Lutheran Church is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod that believes that the Pope is the antichrist. Bachmann has cited theologian Francis Schaeffer as a "profound influence" on her life and her husband's, specifically referring to his film series, How Should We Then Live?  Among Schaefer’s more controversial statements are: “Christianity provides a unified answer for the whole of life,” “Christianity is the greatest intellectual system the mind of man has ever touched” and “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution.”  

Bachmann and her husband own a Christian Counseling practice named Bachmann & Associates, in Lake Elmo and Burnsville south of Minneapolis, which is run by her husband, who says he has a Master’s Degree in Counseling from Regent’s University in Virginia and PhD in clinical psychology from Union Graduate School in Ohio.  The MA Counseling Program at Regents’ University requires students be on campus for a total of 3 weeks, the remainder is completed on-line.  In 2007 the Psychology and Counseling program at Regent’s University (Pat Robertson University) was rocked by accusations of improper conduct by faculty including racist comments and coercion.  Nearly half of the faculty quit.  “One of the professors who quit, Jacqueline Gatewood, a nationally recognized expert on ethics issues, described a “climate of fear and intimidation” within the school. The controversy has also raised questions about whether a culture of academic insensitivity has been fostered at the university under Regent’s founder and president, Pat Robertson….” (Bill Burke, The Virginian-Pilot December 11, 2007).  It isn’t clear whether Marcus Bachmann was involved in this controversy but it reflects on the quality of the counseling training program.

Union Institute and University is a largely on-line institution that formed a graduate school called "The Union Graduate School", which offered a Ph.D. in Arts and Sciences. Though Marcus Bachmann claims his degree is a PhD in psychology, it is actually a certificate in interdisciplinary studies “with an emphasis on clinical psychology”. The Union Graduate School filed for bankruptcy in 1978. Emerging from its bankruptcy, it eventually renamed itself "The Union Institute" (1986).  Ohio Board of Regents scrutinized the program and noted in particular that " ... expectations for student scholarship at the doctoral level were not as rigorous as is common for doctoral work ... " (OBR 2002 Reauthorization Report, page 13) and was put on probation. Later, the Union Graduate School was dissolved and the Ph.D. program was restructured. The program currently offers a PsyD in clinical psychology directed by a person with a doctorate in educational psychology. 

Most psychologists who practice in Minnesota are licensed by the State Board of Psychology, though Marcus Bachmann is not a licensed psychologist in Minnesota. Marcus Bachmann has never attempted to register his “degree” with the boards of psychology and counseling in Minnesota. Trisha Stark, of the Minnesota Psychological Association, said that the title “clinical therapist” which Bachmann uses, is not widely used in professional circles and that Bachmann is able to operate his clinic because of state rules regarding mental health practice. “Minnesota is one of the only states in which you can practice mental health without a license,” Stark said.

Both Bachmann’s publicly eschew reliance on taxpayer funding.  Their clinic received nearly $30,000 from Minnesota government agencies between 2006 and 2010 in addition to at least $137,000 in federal payments and $24,000 in government grants for counselor training. Marcus Bachmann has denied allegations that Bachmann & Associates provides Conversion Therapy, an allegedly psychological treatment repudiated by the American Psychological Association, which attempts to transform homosexuals into heterosexuals. Hidden camera interview suggested that the Bachmann organization did indeed offer such services.  In personal financial disclosure reports for 2006 through 2009, Bachmann reported earning $32,500 to $105,000 from a farm that was owned at the time by her ailing father-in-law, Paul Bachmann. The farm received $260,000 in federal crop and disaster subsidies between 1995 and 2008.

In 1993, Michele Bachman and other parents started the K-12 New Heights Charter School in Stillwater. The publicly funded school's charter mandated that it be non-sectarian in all programs and practices, but the school soon developed a strong Christian orientation. Among courses offered as part of the approved curriculum were, “The Bible’s Truth versus the Lies of Science”, “Geology: Our Six Thousand Year Old Earth”, “Why Do the Jews Continue To Reject Him?”, "12 Christian principles", “The Biology of Fetus Murdering” and “Beginning, intermediate, and advanced Creationism.” [].  Parents of students at the school complained and the superintendent of schools warned Bachmann that the school was in violation of state law. Six months after the school's founding Bachmann resigned and the Christian orientation was removed from the curriculum, allowing the school to keep its charter.

On November 20, 2003, when serving in the Minnesota Senate, Bachmann proposed a constitutional amendment that would bar the state from legally recognizing same sex marriage.  Bachmann’s effort to place a marriage amendment on a referendum ballot in 2004 ultimately failed. She resurrected her proposal in March 2005, but it stalled indefinitely in a senate committee that April. In November 2004, Republicans appointed Bachmann as Assistant Minority Leader in charge of Policy for the Senate Republican Caucus, but in July 2005, the Republican Caucus removed her from her leadership position. Bachmann said that disagreements with Day over her anti-tax stance were the reason for her ouster.

So how did she ever get elected?  The 6th Minnesota Congressional District in which Bachmann ran was clearly a gerrymandered district, about 60% largely north and northwest of Minneapolis in rural areas, which are mainly conservative Christian communities with the exception of St. Cloud.  Inexplicably, the District wrapping around the east side of St. Paul in a largely a blue collar suburban white community that is very concerned about immigration, and where racism is a problem.  The southeastern part of her district is a very affluent upper class business community make up largely of conservative Republicans. 

 While Minneapolis is among the 25 most liberal voting cities in the US, Bachman’s district voted Republican.  Areas surrounding nearly every city or town on Bachman’s district voted Republican, though most of the residents of towns and cities themselves within her district, voted Democratic.  By gerrymandering the 6th district to include the conservative areas east and southeast of Minneapolis and St.Paul that virtually assured Bachman’s re-election.  The 6th district extends over 90 miles west of Minneapolis more than half way to the South Dakota border, and to 20 miles to the Wisconsin border and about 100 miles diagonally from the northwest town of Royalton to the southeast corner of St. Paul. In 2010, Bachman spent $8.5 million dollars on her House campaign, more than any other House candidate in the country, much of the money coming from wealthy individuals and PACS outside Minnesota.  Of her top ten corporate donors five were financial investment firms, and three were oil (e.g. Koch) or ethanol companies and two health care companies.  Bachman’s re-election was one of four (of 8 Minnesota House seats) elected by Republicans.  Bachman won by 13% of the votes.

Outside of brief trips to Israel and Latin America, Bachmann has no foreign affairs experience. Most of her knowledge of international affairs comes from serving on the House Intelligence Committee since 2006, and of course she cannot be asked anything about that during presidential debates, leaving the public with little way to know whether she actually knows anything.

Let’s close is discussion of Michele Bachmann with some of her more memorable statements recently summarized in the Vancouver Observer [Michele Bachmann's weirdest quotes Posted: Aug 13th, 2011]

1.              "There are hundreds and hundreds of scientists, many of them holding Nobel Prizes, who believe in intelligent design." (Oct. 2006)
2.  "If we took away the minimum wage -- if conceivably it was gone -- we could potentially virtually wipe out unemployment completely because we would be able to offer jobs at whatever level." (Jan. 2005) 
3. "Carbon dioxide is portrayed as harmful. But there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows that carbon dioxide is a harmful gas." (Apr. 2009)
4. "What I want them to know is just like, John Wayne was from Waterloo, Iowa. That's the kind of spirit that I have, too." (*note: Movie star John Wayne was born in Winterset, Iowa. The John Wayne to whom Bachmann mistakenly referred was a serial killer. June 2011.)
5. "I wish the American media would take a great look at the views of the people in Congress and find out: Are they pro-America or anti-America?" -(Oct. 2008)
6. "Many teenagers that come in (to work) should be paying the employer because of broken dishes or whatever occurs during that period of time...after six months, that teenager is going to be a fabulous employee." (Jan. 2005) 
7. "Does that mean that someone's 13-year-old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back and go home on the school bus? That night, mom and dad are never the wiser." (October 2009)  
8. "Gay marriage is probably the biggest issue that will impact our state and our nation in the last, at least, thirty years. I am not understating that.” (March 2005)
9. "And what a bizarre time we’re in, Jan, when a judge will say to little children that you can’t say the pledge of allegiance, but you must learn that homosexuality is normal and you should try it.” (March 2004)
10. "This really is the number one issue for our country right now, how are we going to deal with this threat of radical Islam.” (Sept.2006) 

It’s worth giving some careful thought to the primary issues the next President of the United States will face, and how those challenges match up with the educational background and experience, expertise and intellectual leadership style of the Republican candidates, beginning first with Michele Bachmann.

1.              The most immediate pressing issue the US economy. Whether it is through tax cuts as the Tea Party wants, tax increases for the wealthiest Americans and corporations that most of the rest of America wants, something has to be done to stimulate employment and stabilize the U.S. economy and address long term debt.  In all likelihood, the US will have to embark upon a massive infrastructure development initiative that will be opposed by the Tea Party, but hopefully a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans may make it possible.  It is essential for the nation’s recovery.  Bachmann would almost certain oppose such an effort. 

2.              Globalization. Intertwined with the American economy and employment is the growth of jobs in emerging nations. We need to mitigate negative aspects, the growing gap between the rich and poor and provide incentives for American companies to invest in the US instead of exporting more and more jobs to low wage and low tax countries.

3.              Health Care: Again, this is intertwined with the economy.  Everyone should have health care, affordable health care. The US is the only developed nation that does not have universal health care.  About 47 million Americans (including 9 million kids) don't have health insurance to pay for doctor visits or medicine. The cost of health care is directly related to the private insurance companies siphoning off huge portions of the health care dollar for profits.  It can’t be continued.  Bachmann would oppose any expansion of the federal health care program which is essential for economic recovery. 

4.              The wars Iraq and Afghanistan and the undeclared wars must be stopped and our troops brought home, and we need to address more openly the undeclared wars in Pakistan and Somalia. The fiscal cost is unsustainable in the face of other budget demands. 

5.              China. How would the candidates handle relations with a rising China? How to develop a more realistic economic relationship between the US and China should be near the top of the President’s agenda.  How would the candidates persuade Beijing to help dismantle North Korea’s nuclear program and contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

6.              Iran. Iran continues to be accused of harboring terrorists, funding terrorism throughout the Middle East, and their nuclear goals must be reigned in. The possibility Israel may make a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Iran hangs ominously in the background.  Maybe Bachmann would think that's a swell idea, who knows. 

7.              Nonproliferation. How to deal with the fact that non-proliferation regime is broken. Bush tore up arms control treaties, offered to sell civilian nuclear technology to India, then wondered why so many countries weren’t more outraged by Iran’s nuclear misbehavior. Do the candidates have practical plans to halt the spread of nuclear weapons? Would they commit to deep cuts in the United States’ nuclear arsenal, forswear the development of new nuclear weapons and persuade the Russians to do the same? I'm concerned that Bachmann would oppose nonproliferation because she would confuse it with contraception. 

8.              Terrorism. How does the US oppose terrorism without making more terrorists. How would the candidates improve U.S. intelligence capabilities and elicit more cooperation around the world? What would they do to oust al-Qaeda from Pakistan? How would they ensure Pakistan’s cooperation while also pressing for democratic reforms that are essential for its long-term stability.  Bachmann would likely begin by trying to ban all Muslims from owning property and deporting as many as possible, a great step toward establishing positive relationships with the Muslim world. 

9.              Finally, climate change and energy are critical issues facing the next president.  Any talk of opposing energy reform or asserting that climate change is a myth, should be a red flag that the candidate(s) is not ready for prime time.  A major investment in the growth of a green economy could not only spur the US economic recovery but would help solve long-term energy problems. Bachmann would oppose any regulation of oil, natural gas or coal emissions and would promote more tax breaks for those corporations and provide no support for alternative energy. 

As you read down this list of IMMEDIATE problems facing the next president, ask yourself what experience, skills, temperament and wisdom does she have to address these problems.  Sarah Palin thought she could see Russia from her back porch.  We haven’t heard yet what kind of bizarre ideas Michele Bachmann might have about foreign policy.  We already know that her religious beliefs would inform her domestic political decisions.

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