Skip to main content

Bachmann for president? I'll take the glass ceiling

By Jennifer L. Lawless, Special to CNN
  • Jennifer Lawless: Michele Bachmann has announced candidacy, did well in Iowa poll
  • She says she's excited a woman is in the race, but not this out-of-touch woman
  • She says Bachmann extreme in her views on abortion, science and rights for gays, lesbians
  • Lawless: It would make history to elect Bachmann, but this is not the history we want

Editor's note: Jennifer L. Lawless is associate professor of government at American University. She is co-author, with Richard L. Fox, of "It Still Takes A Candidate: Why Women Don't Run for Office" (Cambridge University Press 2010). She ran in the 2006 Democratic primary for the U.S. House of Representatives in Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District.

(CNN) -- On Monday morning, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann formally announced her candidacy for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.

Although most analysts consider Bachmann's odds long at best, a Des Moines Register poll over the weekend placed her in a dead heat with front-runner Mitt Romney for the Iowa caucuses. She has lined up a cadre of well-respected political operatives to run the campaign. And with enthusiastic Tea Party support, Bachmann may well devise a strategy to outperform expectations.

It will only be a matter of hours until pundits, journalists and strategists begin touting the historical significance of Bachmann's candidacy. After all, she is the first female presidential candidate on the Republican side of the aisle with a shot at winning a primary or a caucus.

Whether this speaks to Bachmann's impressive credentials or just says something about the self-imploding Republican bench is a question for another day. The fact is Bachmann's candidacy will undoubtedly fuel months of speculation as to whether she can pick up where Hillary Clinton left off and shatter the glass ceiling once and for all.

Like many Americans, I am excited by the prospect of a woman in the White House. Dozens of other nations have elected female heads of state while the United States continues to lag. But shattering the glass ceiling with a candidate like Michele Bachmann might carry too high a price for mainstream Americans.

Bachmann makes presidential bid official
Bachmann under the spotlight
Bachmann's big government doublespeak
Can Bachmann win GOP nomination?

Like many politicians, Bachmann has already made a series of verbal gaffes.

If she had it to do all over again, for example, I am not sure that she or her advisers would accuse the Obama administration of "turning our country into a nation of slaves." It seems likely that she would not refer to national community service and volunteer programs as "re-education camps for young people."

And I would not be surprised if Bachmann regrets -- while trying to draw similarities to movie star John Wayne -- comparing her spirit to that of serial killer John Wayne Gacy.

Far more problematic than these errors, however, is that Bachmann is out of step with core American values. Her political career is rife with examples of ideological extremism and blatant disregard for civil liberties, civil rights and science.

Consider, for instance, her views on abortion.

Like many conservative Republicans, she is ardently anti-choice. But unlike many of her conservative anti-choice colleagues, and unlike roughly 80% of Americans, Bachmann is so extreme that she does not support allowing women to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy even when that pregnancy results from rape or incest, or when carrying the pregnancy to term threatens the life of the mother.

That she neither recognizes nor respects women's inherent right to make personal, private decisions about their physical autonomy, safety or health, by the way, is not incidental.

Bachmann contends that the "life of the unborn is not a sidebar issue ... It is the issue that impacts more than any other how you view other issues." If that is the case, then Michele Bachmann, using her own test, falls far out of the mainstream.

Bachmann also believes in restricting the civil rights and civil liberties of gays and lesbians. Like most conservative Republicans, Bachmann opposes same-sex marriage. But again, her views extend beyond and into the extreme. She opposed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful for a business to discriminate against an individual on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation.

And despite her ardent support for states' rights, she would support a constitutional amendment that would void the marriage equality law that passed in New York last week. Perhaps her position stems from Bachmann's belief that "if you're involved in the gay and lesbian lifestyle, it's bondage. It is personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement."

Bachmann also supports teaching creationism in public schools because it's important to "put all science on the table and then let the students decide." She opposes stem-cell research, even when the majority of Americans recognizes its potential to cure debilitating diseases.

And she is not convinced of the perils of global warming, perhaps because she does not buy the claim that humans contributed to it. Indeed, man-made global warming "doesn't make any sense" because, she says "carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of nature." Apparently Michele Bachmann knows better than does the scientific community on issues of evolution, medical research and the environment.

I have long studied, published and worried about women's numeric under-representation in the political sphere. When the 112th Congress convened in January 2011, 83% of its members were men. Men occupy governor's mansions in 44 of the 50 states. They run City Hall in 93 of the 100 largest cities across the country.

There is no question that something seems fundamentally wrong with a political system in which women hold so few positions of political power.

But if shattering the glass ceiling means supporting Michele Bachmann's presidential bid and the candidacy of a woman who is dramatically out of step with mainstream America, then I'd prefer to keep the ceiling intact. We can't afford to make that kind of history.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jennifer Lawless.

Featured Deal |