How 23 Foster Kids Led to Michele Bachmann’s Career in Politics

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You could be forgiven for thinking that Michele Bachmann had already begun her campaign for the GOP nomination. She gave the buzziest performance in the most recent debate and preannounced that she was running for president. But she didn't announce that she had started to run for president: It doesn't count unless you say it! The Huffington Post reports that Bachmann will officially start referring to her activities as campaigning on Monday in Iowa.

Bachmann might have perfected the primary-season art of ginning up as many limelight-stealing pseudo-events as possible, but she's been strikingly attention-shy when it comes to her family life. Bachmann has often been lumped in with the rest of the post–Sarah Palin Mama Grizzlies, and not without reason: She happily presents her credentials as a mother of five and foster mom to 23, and the last couple of election cycles have shown that Republican voters find maternal narratives extremely compelling in female candidates. But in her campaign (sorry, precampaign), Bachmann has been more interested in playing up her professional background, especially the tax-attorney bit — after all, she's the tea party's candidate of choice. And unlike Sarah Palin, she's got a current full-time gig.

It was her role as a mother that helped get Bachmann into politics, the New York Times reports in the most detailed look yet at Bachmann's family life. Details on how exactly she handled 23 foster children, starting in 1992, remain murky; Minnesota allows foster-child records to be destroyed after seven years, and the names of her foster children have never been made public for privacy reasons. Bachmann and her husband, who runs a Christian counseling center, specifically wanted to take in "unwed mothers." The Bachmanns didn't end up doing so, but they did take in multiple girls with eating disorders. Because the couple took in particularly troubled cases, their house was designated as a treatment home, meaning they got slightly more money than usual for their work. (Today, the government hands out $47 per day for those who perform that service.)

Bachmann, who had home-schooled her own kids and eventually enrolled them in private Christian schools, sent one of her foster kids to New Heights School, a "back-to-basics" public charter school. Bachmann ended up joining the New Heights board, which was beset by controversy over its heavy Christian overtones. The Times reports that "some parents wanted a school 'based on godly principles,' while others contended that 'the idea to be as close to a Christian school and be public while taking public money is deceit.'"

Teachers complained that they could not teach about "'Native American spirituality' or even yoga, and that one who wanted to show the Disney movie 'Aladdin' was told she could not because it involved magic." Bachmann ended up leaving the school's board after "state and local school officials warned the school that it was at risk of losing its charter."

Several years later she began giving talks in church basements about education reform that were likened to tent revivals, and her political career, which as of Monday will include a run for the White House, was born.

Roots of Bachmann’s Ambition Began at Home [NYT]
Michele Bachmann To Launch Campaign From Iowa On Monday [HuffPo]