Understanding Where Michele Bachmann Gets Her Extreme Views

Ryan Lizza has a long profile in the new issue of The New Yorker in which he explains that "Bachmann's views have been shaped by institutions, tracts, and leaders not commonly known to secular Americans, or even to most Christians" and that "her campaign is going to be a conversation about a set of beliefs more extreme than those of any American politician of her stature."

As Lizza explains, one of the people who played a key role in shaping Bachmann's views was John Eidsmoe, her professor at Oral Roberts Univeristy: 

At Oral Roberts, Bachmann worked for a professor named John Eidsmoe, who got her interested in the burgeoning homeschool movement. She helped him build a database of state homeschooling statutes, assisting his crusade to reverse laws that prevented parents from homeschooling their children. After that, Bachmann worked as Eidsmoe’s research assistant on his book “Christianity and the Constitution,” published in 1987.

Eidsmoe explained to me how the Coburn School of Law, in the years that Bachmann was there, wove Christianity into the legal curriculum. “Say we’re talking in criminal law, and we get to the subject of the insanity defense,” he said. “Well, Biblically speaking, is there such a thing as insanity and is it a defense for a crime? We might look back to King David when he’s captured by the Philistines and he starts frothing at the mouth, playing crazy and so on.” When Biblical law conflicted with American law, Eidsmoe said, O.R.U. students were generally taught that “the first thing you should try to do is work through legal means and political means to get it changed.”

“Christianity and the Constitution” is ostensibly a scholarly work about the religious beliefs of the Founders, but it is really a brief for political activism. Eidsmoe writes that America “was and to a large extent still is a Christian nation,” and that “our culture should be permeated with a distinctively Christian flavoring.” When I asked him if he believed that Bachmann’s views were fully consistent with the prevailing ideology at O.R.U. and the themes of his book, he said, “Yes.” Later, he added, “I do not know of any way in which they are not.”

Eidsmoe has stirred controversy. In 2005, he spoke at the national convention of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a defiantly pro-white, and anti-black, organization. (Eidsmoe says that he deeply despises racism, but that he will speak “to anyone.”) In Alabama last year, he addressed an event commemorating Secession Day and told an interviewer that it was the state’s “constitutional right to secede,” and that “Jefferson Davis and John C. Calhoun understood the Constitution better than did Abraham Lincoln and Daniel Webster.” In April, 2010, he was disinvited from a Tea Party rally in Wausau, Wisconsin, because of these statements and appearances.

Bachmann has not, however, distanced herself, and she has long described her work for Eidsmoe as an important part of her résumé. This spring, she told a church audience in Iowa, “I went down to Oral Roberts University, and one of the professors that had a great influence on me was an Iowan named John Eidsmoe. He’s from Iowa, and he’s a wonderful man. He has theology degrees, he has law degrees, he’s absolutely brilliant. He taught me about so many aspects of our godly heritage.”

When Bachmann spoke at the Rediscover God In America conference in Iowa earlier this year, she prasied Eidsmoe for the influence he had on her:

She also pointedly praised David Barton, calling him "a gift to our nation":

So the next time Bachmann says something absurd and you wonder "where does she get these extreme ideas?" ... well, now you know.