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Byron York defends ‘submissive’ Bachmann question

at 12:09 PM ET, 08/12/2011


Republican presidential candidates former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, left, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., center, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are seen before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011. (Charlie Neibergall - AP)
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) took a lot of hits at Thursday night’s Fox News debate from her 2012 rivals. But the line that got the most “boos” from the audience came from moderator Byron York of the Washington Examiner, who asked Bachmann, an evangelical Christian, about a past comment that wives should be “submissive” to their husbands.

Bachmann came off well, and York defended his question while praising her response — even though she didn’t exactly answer.

York asked: "In 2006 when you were running for Congress, you described a moment in your life when your husband said you should study for a degree in tax law. You said you hated the idea.”

York continued: “And then you explained, 'But the Lord said, Be submissive. Wives, you are to be submissive to your husbands.' As president, would you be submissive to your husband?"

Bachmann seemed momentarily flummoxed by York’s question, but her silence only highlighted the anger at York in the audience. She then thanked York for the query and told the crowd that she and Marcus Bachmann celebrate their 33rd wedding anniversary in September.

“I'm in love with him, I'm so proud of him. And what submission means to us -- if that's what your question is -- it means respect,” she added.

“I respect my husband. He's a wonderful Godly man and a great father. And he respects me as his wife. That's how operate our marriage. We respect each other, we love each other."

Like the “Are you a flake?” question lobbed at Bachmann in June by another of Thursday’s debate moderators, Fox News’ Chris Wallace, York’s query could have been seen as sexist and unfair.

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.”

Bachmann actually gave a similar answer to Newsweek in last week’s now-infamous cover story. “That means that I respect my husband, and he respects me,” she said. She added a commitment that was absent from her debate response, saying that in the White House, “I would be the decisionmaker.”

Bachmann herself talked about the question on NBC’s “Today” show the morning after the debate, incorrectly attributing the question to Wallace.

“I certainly can’t make [a] comment about what question he asked,” she said. “But I was happy to have the opportunity just to be able to talk about my wonderful family and my husband. ... I’m just grateful to get that answered and that comment out.”

In other words, Bachmann now sees this issue as settled. But mutual respect is not exactly the same as what Bachmann said at a mega-church in 2006, which was that her husband told her to get a post-doctorate degree in tax law.

“Tax law? I hate taxes?” she said she thought at the time. “But the Lord says, wives, be submissive to your husbands.” She felt God was speaking through her husband, so she got the degree.

What that exactly means, and whether this line of questioning is an appropriate examination of Bachmann’s beliefs or an unfair religious test is a debate that will likely go on whether Bachmann likes it or not.

Bachmann has once again shown the power of failing to engage in gotcha fights with the media — while also not answering questions she doesn’t want to answer.

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