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Michele Bachmann's Holy War

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When Bachmann finished her studies in Oklahoma, Marcus instructed her to do her postgraduate work in tax law — a command Michele took as divinely ordained. She would later profess to complete surprise at God's choice for her field of study. "Tax law? I hate taxes," she said. "Why should I go and do something like that?" Still, she sucked it up and did as she was told. "The Lord says: Be submissive, wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands."

Moving back to Minnesota, she and Marcus settled in Stillwater, a town of 18,000 near St. Paul, where they raised their five children and took in 23 foster kids. Stillwater is a Midwestern version of a Currier & Ives set piece, complete with cozy homes, antique stores — and no black people. In short, the perfect launching pad for a political career built on Bachmann's retro-Stepford image. Stillwater's congressional district is the whitest district in Minnesota (95 percent) and one of the wealthiest in America (with a median income $16,000 above the national average).

Michele took a job as a tax attorney collecting for the IRS and spent the next four years sucking on the tit of the Internal Revenue Service, which makes her Tea Party-leader hypocrisy quotient about average. (At least she didn't collect more than $250,000 in federal farm subsidies between 1995 and 2006 — that was her father-in-law.) It was after Bachmann quit the IRS in 1993 that her political career really began; although she had volunteered for Jimmy Carter in her youth and had been an anti-abortion protester, she didn't become a major player in Stillwater until she joined a group of fellow Christian activists to form New Heights, one of the first charter schools in America.

Anyone wanting to understand how President Bachmann might behave should pay close attention to what happened at New Heights. Because the school took government money, like other charter schools, it had to maintain a separation of church and state, and Bachmann was reportedly careful to keep God out of the initial outlines of the school's curriculum. But before long, parents began to complain that Bachmann and her cronies were trying to bombard the students with Christian dogma — advocating the inclusion of something called the "12 Biblical Principles" into the curriculum, pushing the teaching of creationism and banning the showing of the Disney movie Aladdin because it promoted witchcraft.

"One member of Michele's entourage talked about how he had visions, and that God spoke to him directly," recalled Denise Stephens, a parent who was opposed to the religious curriculum at New Heights. "He told us that as Christians we had to lay our lives down for it. I remember getting in the car with my husband afterward and telling him, 'This is a cult.'"

Under pressure from parents, Bachmann resigned from New Heights. But the experience left her with a hang-up about the role of the state in public education. She was soon mobilizing against an educational-standards program called Profile of Learning, an early precursor to No Child Left Behind. Under the program, state educators and local businesses teamed up to craft a curriculum that would help young people prepare for the work force — but Bachmann saw through their devious scheme. "She thought it was a socialist plot to turn our children into little worker-automatons," says Bill Prendergast, a Stillwater resident who wrote for the town's newspaper and has documented every step of Bachmann's career.

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Matt Taibbi

Matt Taibbi is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. He’s the author of five books and a winner of the National Magazine Award for commentary. Please direct all media requests to taibbimedia@yahoo.com.

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