Headaches for Bachmann

It is being reported that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann suffers from “incapacitating” migraine headaches.  The implication is that this disqualifies her from office.  Is this a concern?  Or an example of the punditocracy, having already discredited her religious background, being willing to bring up anything to damage the prospects of a conservative candidate?

See Bachmann’s Headache | Stress-Related Condition | Pill Use | The Daily Caller, which broke the story, and The Fix at the Washington Post, which makes a big deal about how this will hurt her prospects.

Bachmann is no longer a Lutheran

It is now official, I guess.  Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann left the Wisconsin Synod shortly before running for president. This, as the press started portraying the conservative Lutheran denomination as a weird cult for believing that the Pope is the antichrist and that homosexuality is a sin.  From the Washington Post story:

The conservative church that Michele Bachmann officially left days before launching her presidential campaign said Friday that the Minnesota congresswoman’s decision came at their request.

“The impetus came from the church,” said Joel Hochmuth, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the denominational organization that includes the church. “For the pastor’s sake, he wanted to know where he stood with the family.”

Bachmann (R) had stopped attending Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church two years ago but did not formally end her membership until June 21, a date first reported by CNN. The timing raised questions because it came shortly before she formally kicked off her presidential campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, and because the church has taken controversial stands on Catholicism and homosexuality.

Candidates have often come under fire for the religious company they keep. During the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama was forced to disavow his affiliation with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright after videos emerged of Wright’s more controversial sermons, which included statements critical of the United States and what many considered to be slurs against white people.

A spokeswoman for Bachmann’s congressional office said she now attends a non-denominational church in the Stillwater, Minn., area but declined to specify which one.

“As the family’s schedule has allowed, they have attended their current church throughout the past two years,” spokeswoman Becky Rogness said in an e-mail.

The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod is a conservative branch of Lutheranism that has about 390,000 adherents across the country. It has been criticized in part because it holds that the Catholic pope is the Antichrist. Bachmann has said emphatically that she does not share that view, and church officials recently told the Atlantic that it is not a central tenet of the faith.

The synod — a term Hochmuth defined as “a fellowship of congregations that hold to the same beliefs and doctrines” — also believes that homosexuality is a sin and can be changed.

Bachmann’s husband, Marcus Bachmann, has recently come under fire over his Christian-based counseling center’s treatment of gay clients. Several recent reports say the center practices “reparative therapy,” which seeks to “cure” gays and lesbians of their homosexuality.

On Thursday, Marcus Bachmann acknowledged in an interview with the Star-Tribune of Minneapolis that counselors at Bachmann and Associates do treat homosexuals who seek to become heterosexual, but that it is not the clinic’s main focus, and “we don’t have an agenda or a philosophy of trying to change someone.”

Michele Bachmann stopped attending services at the Salem Evangelical Lutheran Church after she moved to a different part of town, according to media reports. Around the time that her campaign for president geared up this spring, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz asked that she make clear her relationship with the church, Hochmuth said.

The Bachmanns then asked the church council that they be removed from the membership ranks — a request that is not required of a person that leaves the church, but assists with recordkeeping and helps the church ensure that “you’re in the spiritual care of someone else,” Hochmuth said. “In other words, we would want to know if you are being ‘fed the word,’ as we say.”

Bachmann did not specify to which church she was moving, Hochmuth said.

via Bachmann left church at pastor’s request, official says – The Washington Post.

The story is accompanied by another story (from the Religious News Service) on the WELS stance on the anti-Christ and the associated charge of anti-Catholicism (the abundance of links will fill you in on the whole controversy):

 The Lutheran denomination that GOP presidential candidate Rep. Michele Bachmann quit in June sought to explain its belief that the papacy is the anti-Christ after reports questioned whether Bachmann is anti-Catholic. . . .

The denomination says on its Web site: “We identify the anti-Christ as the papacy. This is an historical judgment based on Scripture.’’ . . .The Republican, who has surged in recent presidential polls, denied that she is anti-Catholic in a 2006 debate. “It’s abhorrent, it’s religious bigotry. I love Catholics, I’m a Christian, and my church does not believe that the pope is the anti-Christ, that’s absolutely false.’’Bachmann also said that her pastor, the Rev. Marcus Birkholz, told her he was “appalled that someone would put that out.’’

According to Hochmuth, the pastor told Bachmann that WELS “primarily views the office of the papacy as the anti-Christ, not the individual popes themselves.’’

Asked for comment, Birkholz said Thursday, “I have been asked by my congregation not to give any more interviews.’’

An online report in The Atlantic magazine on Thursday (July 14) reported on WELS’ anti-papal doctrine, and questioned whether Bachmann also subscribes to the view.

Bill Donohue, president of the watchdog Catholic League, said he does not believe Bachmann is anti-Catholic, but that “it is not inappropriate to ask some pointed questions of Rep. Bachmann and her religion’s tenets.’’

Hochmuth said in an interview the anti-papal doctrine is “not one of our driving views, and certainly not something that we preach from the pulpit.’’ Hochmuth said he doubts whether many members of WELS are aware of the doctrine, which dates to Protestant Reformer Martin Luther.

“As a confessional Lutheran church, we hold to the teachings of Martin Luther who himself maintained the papacy, and in turn the pope, has set himself up in place of Christ, and so is the anti-Christ,’’ Hochmuth said.

He also described the anti-Christ as a theological principle, not a “cartoon character with horns.’’

Hochmuth added that “we love and respect Catholic Christians … Yet we pray that they would come to see the errors of their church’s official doctrine that the pope is infallible and that no one can be saved outside of the Roman Catholic Church.’’

Was this well-handled?Is this responsible reporting?Was Michele Bachmann driven from her church in the same way Barack Obama was?

Should confessional Lutherans now refuse to support Bachmann now that she has abandoned her confirmation pledge to uphold the Lutheran confessions?

UPDATE:  The article in The Atlantic that broke the story is not all that bad, in that it explains the theological position pretty well.  HT to Jonathan and Todd for that.

And now the Marriage Pledge for politicians

Republican presidential candidates keep getting asked to sign pledges–not to raise taxes, to oppose abortion, etc.–in order to get the support of key voters.  The latest is a pledge about marriage that goes on to include stances on various issues of sexual morality.  Signers must promise not only to oppose gay marriage, but also to oppose divorce, extra-marital sex, pornography, women in combat, and to believe that homosexuality is a choice.  Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum have signed it.  Mitt Romney refuses to.  Tim Pawlenty has said he agrees with the substance of the document but refuses to sign it.  (Complicating the pledge was a statement since removed that said African-American families were better off under slavery than they are today.  Again, that statement has been removed and the signers are repudiating that part.)

Are such pledges wise?  While they might seal up some voters, won’t they alienate many more?  Given the cultural climate of today, isn’t a politician who signs a statement like this doomed to defeat?   Might Christian activists who demand this kind of ideological purity be engaging in a counter-productive effort, ensuring that candidates sympathetic to their cause will lose rather than win?

via Pawlenty punts, Romney rips Iowa marriage pledge – latimes.com.

The McConnell plan

It’s hard to  decipher what Mitch McConnell’s plan to deal with the debt ceiling even is, if you just go by the vague news reports and the wildly opposed or enthusiastic descriptions of it by both advocates and foes, both of whom exist among both Republicans and Democrats.  Essentially, as I understand it, McConnell’s plan is for Congress to pass a resolution that will put the onus of requesting debt hikes, which must be accompanied by spending cuts, onto the President.  Here is a relatively lucid explanation of what it is:

The McConnell approach is convoluted because it is intended to allow Republicans to avoid bringing down the U.S. economy without having to cast politically unpopular votes to raise the debt ceiling. Mr. McConnell proposes a series of maneuvers that would end up authorizing a $2.5 trillion increase in the debt limit, enough to take the country past the 2012 election. He contemplates that President Obama will seek an increase in three installments — $700 billion, $900 billion and $900 billion. Congress would have a chance to vote against each of these. The president would, presumably, veto those resolutions of disapproval and, presumably, enough Democrats would stand by him to uphold the vetoes.

Meanwhile, the president would have to specify — although he wouldn’t be required to implement — spending cuts equivalent to the amount of increase requested in the debt ceiling. It’s not hard to imagine Republicans putting this list of cuts to good political use. However, the political sting is softened by the fact that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid would not need the votes of the most endangered members of his caucus to sustain the president’s vetoes, which may explain some of his expressions of interest in the arrangement.

Here is how conservative blogger Jennifer Rubin explains the measure and the controversies:

If you go onto Twitter or check some Web sites (right and left) you will find loads of chatter about the McConnell debt disapproval plan. Most of it is wrong. Members of the chattering class are so anxious to chatter that they feel compelled to do so without understanding the subject matter at hand. Throw in some bad faith (certain right-wing bloggers would declare the GOP leadership traitors if they proposed only $4 trillion in cuts and got President Obama to decline to run for reelection), add in some liberal suspicion (warranted since this is not the first time that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has eaten their lunch), and presto: You get some of the worst “reporting” in recent memory.

The concept isn’t that hard to understand. 1. McConnell had enough of the phony White House talks. The White House offered a paltry $2 billion in actual, immediate cuts. 2. McConnell gave a speech to make clear that wasn’t enough and that the debt limit would be raised only with real cuts and without tax hikes. 3. McConnell could sit back and wait for default. 4. But he comes up with a mechanism to force Obama to put up cuts, send them to Congress and face “default” if the president’s cuts don’t get through. 5. In the process he makes 34 Democratic senators vote over and over again on cuts. (The sound you hear in the background is the conga line at the Senate Republican Committee headquarters.)

There are no tax increases in the plan. The onus is on the president to send a request for a debt-ceiling increase and the cuts to go along with it. If he doesn’t do it or if the Congress disapproves of what he sends up (and sustains a veto) the debt ceiling remains in place. But the Senate Democrats will have the power to sustain a veto (and thereby allow phony cuts to be used to raise the debt ceiling), right? Which 34 senators exactly are going to do this? Certainly not the ones in unsafe seats with voters clamoring for real spending cuts.

The critics who dimly understand the plan forget that the alternatives are limited. What are the alternatives? Default. Or accept the tax hike offer from the White House. Or maybe Obama will cave. McConnell is more than happy to keep on trying to get rid of the tax hikes and get the White House to cough up real spending cuts.

But if there is no deal (grand or otherwise) then the default will not be on the shoulders of the Republicans. McConnell is providing them with a backstop to avoid default.

via McConnell’s plan confuses the chattering class – Right Turn – The Washington Post.

The plan gives up on trying to get spending cuts without tax hikes from the President, but it also attempts a kind of political jui  jitzu, by which Republicans will be put in the position of opposing higher debt and Democrats will shoulder all of the blame.   Indeed, it seems, as things now stand, that these negotiations and every possible outcome will make the Republicans look bad.  If the compromises go through, they will be blamed for cutting spending on popular programs, such as Medicare, while also being blamed for obstructionist tactics that put the country on the edge of default.  McConnell would seem to get the Republicans out of that mess, but now he is being accused of blowing the chance to cut spending and caving in to the Democrats, who, suspiciously, are voicing support for the plan.

What is your analysis?

A liberal tea party?

Liberals are afflicted with tea party envy.  According to leftist political theory, populist movements–grassroot uprisings of the masses–are supposed to advance the agenda of the left.  But in America most populist movements lean right.   So Democrats are trying to organize a tea party of their own:

At last weekend’s Netroots Nation gathering in Minneapolis, liberal activists expressed frustration that they lacked the political power or media focus given to the conservative tea-party movement. Former White House environmental official Van Jones is hoping to change that with a new political effort dubbed “The American Dream Movement.”

Organizers are hoping to emulate the the success of the tea party, which became a significant force in the 2010 midterms, uniting like-minded people across the country who were previously uninvolved in politics or participating locally but not at the national level.

They hope to motivate unemployed veterans, struggling homeowners and other alienated Americans who are angry at Republicans’ desire to drastically cut government spending in Washington and collective bargaining rights for state employees in places like Wisconsin. And to lure those people simply struggling to find a job while worried about their unemployment benefits ending.

“We think we can do what the tea party did,” Jones said in an interview with The Fix. “They stepped forward under a common banner, and everybody took them seriously. Polls suggest there are more people out there who have a different view of the economy, but who have not stepped forward yet under a common banner.”

Jones is a former Obama environmental adviser who resigned from the White House in 2009 amid controversy over his past activism. But he’s lauded in liberal circles for his charisma and organizing abilities.

“There’s a lot of organizational muscle behind the initiative, and Van is one of the most inspiring figures in the progressive movement, so I’m looking forward to these efforts, and they certainly come at a time when Republican overreach has primed progressives to take action” said Markos Moulitas, the founder of the liberal blog network Daily Kos.

Jones’ “Dream” movement will launch Thursday night with a rally in New York City. The Roots are performing; MoveOn.org, a well known liberal advocacy group, is co-sponsoring the gathering.

via Can liberals start their own tea party? – The Fix – The Washington Post.

Populist movements organized from the top and funded by billionaires are kind of a contradiction in terms.  Still, do you think the American Dream movement will catch on?

Misunderstanding our founding documents?

E. J. Dionne says that, contrary to what tea party conservatives are saying, our founding documents are not anti-government:

A reading of the Declaration of Independence makes clear that our forebears were not revolting against taxes as such — and most certainly not against government as such.

In the long list of “abuses and usurpations” the Declaration documents, taxes don’t come up until the 17th item, and that item is neither a complaint about tax rates nor an objection to the idea of taxation. Our Founders remonstrated against the British crown “for imposing taxes on us without our consent.” They were concerned about “consent,” i.e. popular rule, not taxes.

The very first item on their list condemned the king because he “refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.” Note that the signers wanted to pass laws, not repeal them, and they began by speaking of “the public good,” not about individuals or “the private sector.” They knew that it takes public action — including effective and responsive government — to secure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Their second grievance reinforced the first, accusing the king of having “forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance.” Again, our forebears wanted to enact laws; they were not anti-government zealots.

Abuses three through nine also referred in some way to how laws were passed or justice was administered. The document doesn’t really get to anything that looks like Big Government oppression (“He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance”) until grievance No. 10.

This misunderstanding of our founding document is paralleled by a misunderstanding of our Constitution. “The federal government was created by the states to be an agent for the states, not the other way around,” Gov. Rick Perry of Texas said recently.

No, our Constitution begins with the words “We the People” not “We the States.” The Constitution’s Preamble speaks of promoting “a more perfect Union,” “Justice,” “the common defense,” “the general Welfare” and “the Blessings of Liberty.” These were national goals.

via What our Declaration really said – The Washington Post.

No, the founding documents were not anti-government, since they were concerned with establishing a government.  But what do you think of Dionne’s point, that today’s conservatives are taking the limited government bit too far?  (Certainly, traditional conservatives, like those in Europe, tend to favor a strong government, whereas traditional liberals were the ones who opposed strong governmental authority so they could do what they want.)