Michele Bachmann is a candidate of whopping internal contradictions.
Earlier this month, I heard the Minnesota congresswoman give her Christian testimony at a church service in Osceola, Iowa. She told the story of her father leaving her mother, of the economic struggles her family faced, and of the encounter with God she experienced as a teenager. Her tone was direct, non-political and obviously sincere.
A few days later, at a campaign stop in Iowa, Bachmann was asked by a Latino college student what she would do to help the children of undocumented immigrants. The presidential candidate responded: “Their parents are the ones who brought them here. . . . They did not have the legal right to come to the United States. We do not owe people who broke our laws to come into the country. We don’t owe them anything.”
Bachmann is not just making a political point but a moral argument. She asserts that children — who have committed no crime themselves — should be denied assistance because of the legal status of their parents. Her point is made without qualification. It doesn’t matter whether the children of illegal immigrants are hungry or sick. This standard rules out everything from emergency room treatment to elementary school education to prenatal care for the unborn. Bachmann’s pro-life convictions, evidently, only apply to children covered by a green card.
It is difficult to determine what tradition of moral reasoning Bachmann is drawing upon. Her argument seems to involve a mix of extreme nationalism and utilitarian lifeboat ethics. Christian morality, in contrast, affirms that human worth is intrinsic and universal. Men and women are created in God’s image, which is equally present in every tribe, race and nationality. Governments have a responsibility to honor human dignity in the application of law, even when it comes to noncitizens. Children, along with others who are particularly vulnerable, have a particularly urgent claim to care and protection.
These beliefs do not translate easily or directly into specific immigration policies. Nations have the right to control their borders and enforce their laws. But when it comes to human beings — and especially when it comes to children — it is never permissible to say, “We don’t owe them anything.”
Bachmann’s candidacy represents a digression in the quality and seriousness of evangelical political engagement. It is difficult to imagine Mike Huckabee boasting of his indifference to the health and welfare of children, whatever their background. Even Pat Robertson, running for president in 1988, would have balked at such callousness. Both men would have been too conscious of the warnings found in Matthew 25, where Christianity’s founder defines the proper Christian attitude toward the hungry, the sick, the prisoner and the stranger. “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these,” he said, “you did not do for me.”
Bachmann holds her faith deeply and understands its political implications poorly. Her campaign is increasingly discrediting to causes — including the pro-life cause — she seeks to serve.