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Michele Bachmann gets a tame reception in San Francisco

The conservative presidential hopeful avoids social issues in her speech to a mild crowd, instead focusing on regaining America's competitive edge and shrinking the federal government.

October 21, 2011|By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
  • Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) speaks at the Commonwealth Club in San… (Jeff Chiu, Associated Press )

Reporting from San Francisco — Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann's appearance in San Francisco on Thursday had the makings of a dramatic clash — a leading opponent of gay marriage opening herself up to questions in a city defined by its activism for gay rights and other progressive causes.

But the Republican presidential contender's visit to the Commonwealth Club was perhaps most remarkable for what it wasn't. In a sign of the diminished threat that Bachmann poses to President Obama, there were no protesters to greet her as she arrived downtown, and police officers stationed at the event turned out to be an unnecessary precaution.

No one heckled her (with the exception of some hissing — mixed with applause — when she said the difference between the tea party and the Occupy Wall Street protesters was that the tea party "picks up its trash"). Some audience members submitted questions about her controversial views on the societal effects of gay marriage and the role her evangelical faith would play in guiding her decisions, but the moderator did not delve into any of those areas.

Instead, during an address on how America could regain its competitive edge, Bachmann delivered many of the same arguments she has made before conservative audiences across the country.

She called for shrinking the role of government, in part by scaling back the salaries and benefits of some federal employees. She said she would repeal Obama's healthcare law and the sweeping financial regulations put in place after the nation's economic crisis. She advocated shutting the doors of the Education Department and the Environmental Protection Agency and handing off their oversight functions to states and localities.

"Researchers, entrepreneurs, investors across the nation have been paralyzed, unfortunately, by the current administration's anti-business policies that have created severe uncertainty in the business climate," Bachmann said.

She said as president she would respond to the threat of a nuclear Iran "with absolutely everything that the United States can put on the line." Iraq and Libya, she said, should reimburse the United States for liberating its people: "These are not poor nations; these are nations that do have oil revenues."

The congresswoman answered just one question about social issues, from a reporter who asked about her backing for a constitutional ban on gay marriage.

"I don't believe in activist judges writing our laws for us," Bachmann said. "I believe we need to uphold our Constitution; the people deserve the right to be able to speak on their laws through the legislature and through the legislative process, signed by the executive. That's how we need to put laws into effect. But I also believe in traditional marriage."

Bachmann's talk drew a mixture of Republican admirers, Democratic detractors and curiosity-seekers. Among the guests were Democrat Patrick Connors, 45, and his husband, Robert DeKoch, a 45-year-old Web developer, who paid extra to sit together in one of the front rows.

The couple said they had closely followed the reporting on Bachmann's views on gay marriage and the services offered by her husband's Christian counseling clinic, which offers "reparative therapy" to gay clients. (In an interview with the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in July, Marcus Bachmann said that form of therapy was not a focus of the clinic and was used only "at the client's discretion.")

After her surge in the polls this summer, Bachmann was asked to defend her 2004 remark that "the gay and lesbian lifestyle" was "personal bondage, personal despair and personal enslavement." ("I don't judge them," Bachmann told NBC News' "Meet the Press" host David Gregory after he played the clip on the show.)

"I want her to stay in the race as long as possible because I think she represents a population in this country that needs to examine their beliefs and their positions — they need to be challenged on them," Connors said. "I can think of no better way to expose the errors in people's thinking than to air them."

Some, like lawyer Geoffrey Murry, attended the talk to size up Obama's competition. As a backer of the president, Murry said he would like to see a Bachmann-Obama matchup next year: "I think he'd wipe the floor with her."

Psychologist Stephen Sabin, a 36-year-old Democrat, was there entirely out of curiosity. "Her views are so far off from the center," he said, "it just kind of fascinates me."

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