"My mommy doesn't need fixing", says 8-year-old to Michele Bachmann

"Shameless" maybe but this little boy shines light on Bachmann’s strained relationship with the LGBT

 

When it comes to Michele Bachmann and the LGBT community, it's fair to say that relations are fairly frosty. Look no further than the Minnesota Congresswoman's support for a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil unions. Then there was an exchange in town hall in Iowa where Bachmann explains to the leader of the Gay Straight Alliance at the local high school that's its fine for gay people to marry, erm, so long as it's not with a person of the same sex. And of course there is the clinic co-owned by Bachmann and her husband, much maligned over its pretentions to "pray-the-gay-away" as this undercover video from Associated Press highlights.

So when an eight-year-old boy named Elijah wandered up to Bachmann during a recent meet-and-greet event in South Carolina -- where the congresswoman was promoting her new book Core of Conviction: My Story -- she hardly expected him to be an undercover assailant acting as the vanguard of this ongoing battle with the LGBT community.

As the video shows Bachmann is first unable to hear little Elijah, and learns over the desk to get as close as possible to him. The whole thing was like asking someone to come closer and closer and then shouting "boo!" except this time it wasn't "boo" but something that was equally shocking: "My mommy, miss Bachmann, my mommy's gay but she doesn't need any fixing." It's worth watching this video just for the look of utter shock on Bachmann's face. The mother -- apparently encouraging the boy's statement -- is then shot a look which, "if looks could kill, would have left Elijah an orphan" (as LGBT website Dallas Voice memorably points out.)

Later Bachmann took to the airwaves with Glenn Beck to call this act "shameless", excoriating the mother for her eagerness to use her child as a political pawn. Critics on Twitter also vented anger at what looked like a child being forced to deliver a prepared line. Beck asked: "How do you navigate in that kind of world where you're being -- I think -- set up to look like a homophobe. Are you a homophobe?" Bachmann vehemently denied being so and stated that the "agenda-driven community wants to climb up on my platform and make their issue my issue and paint me as someone that I'm not."

But the (unidentified) woman who videotaped the confrontation, disagreed with the idea that the boy had been forced by his mother. She told Chicago Now that the boy was the one who wanted to approach Bachmann:

"His mom was going to say something to her, but she got nervous and told me she wanted to leave. We were about to step out of the line but Elijah cried out, "Nooo!" He grabbed onto her coat and pulled her back in the line, saying he wanted to talk to her....[W]hen we got up to Michele, he got a little stage fright. His mom just didn't want him to not say it because he was afraid, because she knew he would regret it if he didn't."

Whatever the motive the LGBT community can comfort themselves with the thought that Bachmann's chances of winning the Republican nomiations -- barring a miracoulous turn-around in fortunes -- seem pretty bleak. After all it's not Elijah's mum that needs fixing, it's Bachmann's views.

Ellie Foreman-Peck
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Martin Schulz: could this man bring an end to the reign of Angela Merkel?

The German Eurocrat is the biggest threat to the possibility of a fourth term for Merkel. 

At first sight, Martin Schulz looks like an unlikely political saviour. Thin of hair and thick of waist, the 61-year-old was a member of the European Parliament for 23 years and its president for five. In an anti-establishment age, it was predicted that Schulz would struggle when he became the Social Democratic Party’s (SPD) candidate to replace Angela Merkel as the German chancellor in January. Instead, he is spearheading a remarkable revival in his tribe’s fortunes. On 19 February, for the first time in a decade, the SPD polled above Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), attracting 33 per cent to their 32 per cent. The SPD vote share has increased by 12 points in a month. The cause is clear: “Martin mania”.

For months, it was assumed that Merkel would secure a fourth term as chancellor in September’s federal election. The SPD, the grandfather of European social democracy and Germany’s oldest party (it was founded in 1863), had polled as low as 19 per cent. After forming a grand coalition with the CDU in 2013, Schulz’s party was marginalised as Merkel claimed credit for policies such as the country’s first minimum wage. Voters defected to the far-left Die Linke and the far-right Alternative für Deutschland. The SPD’s future looked to be one of managed decline.

Sigmar Gabriel, the party’s leader since 2009, stood little chance of supplanting Merkel as chancellor. As a result, like François Hollande, he reached for the pearl-handled revolver: he announced his intention to step aside on 24 January after internal SPD polling showed that Schulz would perform significantly better against Merkel. “It was not an easy decision but I’m convinced it was the right decision,” Gabriel told reporters. His judgement was vindicated as public polls gave Schulz an 11-point lead over Merkel (49-38).

The German chancellor’s apparent unassailability owed less to her strength than to her opponents’ weakness. Eleven years after she entered office, voters had grown weary of Merkel’s leadership but saw no viable alternative. In Schulz, they have found one. Having been engaged at EU level and held no domestic office since standing down after 11 years as mayor of the north-western market town Würselen in 1998, Schulz has been embraced by voters as a relative outsider.

Unlike his SPD colleagues, Schulz can criticise the CDU’s record without appearing hypocritical or feeble. He has attracted voters with a centre-left emphasis on redistribution and social justice. “When people see that their taxes are used to give their children a future, they buy into it,” Schulz has said in interviews.

The European Parliament has been a useful platform for his pugnacious style. He is best known for being compared to a concentration camp guard by Silvio Berlusconi in 2003 and for his interjection in 2010 after Nigel Farage branded the then EU president, Herman Van Rompuy, a “damp rag”. Schulz retorted: “It’s not right that this man should be able to trample over the dignity of this house!”

Voters have warmed to Schulz’s personal story as well as his political history. He was born on 20 December 1955 in the village of Hehlrath, North-Rhine Westphalia, to a policeman father and a homemaker mother (he is the youngest of five). Rather than going to university, he trained as a bookseller and was a promising footballer. Two severe knee injuries ended his playing career at the age of 18 and he sought refuge in alcohol after falling into depression. Having contemplated suicide, he recovered to open a bookshop in his home town (which he ran until he became an MEP in 1994) and has been teetotal since 1980.

Schulz educated himself by devouring historical fiction (his favourite writers are John Steinbeck and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa) and retains the restlessness of an autodidact (he often works 18-hour days). His bonhomie and blunt manner appeal to voters who regard Merkel as aloof.

That Schulz has come to the SPD’s rescue is unsurprising. He joined the party at the age of 19 and became the youngest mayor in North-Rhine Westphalia when he was elected in Würselen at 31. After more than two decades serving the EU, the attractions of a return to domestic politics were obvious. “People must look into your eyes and see that you are a bloody streetfighter,” he remarked in 2013, as he presciently dismissed Ed Miliband’s electoral chances.

Schulz has disoriented the Christian Democrats, who failed to anticipate a centre-left renaissance. In a mark of how much he has unsettled them, the German finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has denounced him as a Trump-like populist for his slogan “Make Europe great again”. Were Schulz to replace Merkel and Emmanuel Macron to be elected French president, the pair would unite in seeking to impose punitive Brexit terms on the UK.

For Germany’s Social Democrats, the fear is that Schulz’s surge has come too soon – voters could swing back to Merkel and the CDU before polling day. But after years as an emblem of centre-left malaise, the SPD has momentum. Schulz is determined to prove that there are second acts in political lives. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit