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Posted at 5:58 PM ET, 03/ 8/2011

The 'gangster' rap on Michele Bachmann

By Jonathan Capehart

Of all the things said by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) on "Meet the Press" Sunday, her slam of the Obama administration as a "gangster government" is the one that has gotten the most attention. Chris Matthews devoted an entire segment, which featured yours truly, to the Tea Party Queen's comment on "Hardball" last night. But on my Facebook page and in two conversations within the last 24 hours, folks are ascribing an even more sinister reason for Bachmann's use of "gangster." I have to admit that I was wondering. So I did some research.

Bachmann has been parroting "gangster government" since it was first used by Michael Barone in a May 2009 column on the Chrysler bailout for the Washington Examiner. In it, he basically accuses the Obama administration of corruption.

The Chrysler negotiations will not be the last occasion for this administration to engage in bailout favoritism and crony capitalism. There's a May 31 deadline to come up with a settlement for General Motors. And there will be others. In the meantime, who is going to buy bonds from unionized companies if the government is going to take their money away and give it to the union? We have just seen an episode of Gangster Government. It is likely to be part of a continuing series.

About a month later, Bachmann trotted out her new rhetorical sledgehammer on the House floor.

"I saw [an article] today where a constituent had contacted one of the representatives, a Democrat representative here in this chamber, Representative Barney Frank. Barney Frank was able to go and talk to the right people and get this dealership back open," Bachmann said before leveling her charge against the Obama administration.

Is that what we have come to in this country, that rather than a private business with a private contract with another private corporation, they're no longer able to work out their agreements because, as [Washington Examiner] columnist Michael Barone has called, he said, now we've moved into the realm of "gangster government. We have gangster government when the federal government has set up a new cartel and private businesses now have to go begging with their hand out to their local -- hopefully well-politically connected -- congressman or their senator so they can buy a peace offering for that local business. Is that the kind of country we are going to have in the future?

Clearly, the implication was that the Chicagoans in the West Wing were emulating Chicagoans who made the Windy City and gangsterism synonymous. In fact, Barone reiterated his charge almost a year later in a piece for National Review Online. "Gangster Government may look good to those currently in favor," he wrote, "but as some of Al Capone's confederates found out, that status is not permanent, and there is always more room under the bus."

But for many, particularly African Americans, "gangster government" conjures up another, equally violent image. Not that of the white, fedora-wearing, machine-gun totting criminals of the 1920s and 1930s. But of the black, bandana-wearing, drug-dealing, drive-by-shooting thugs glorified and celebrated in gansta rap.

Both my dinner companion last night and my lunchmate today said they thought Bachmann was engaging in ugly dog-whistle politics. In the tradition of "welfare queen," which fostered negative images of black woman having babies and collecting government checks, "gangster government" is heard as "gangsta government" and conjures up a repugnant image of a lawless, out-of-control black man in the White House -- who shouldn't be there.

Inevitably, someone will ask if it is possible to criticize the president without being tagged a racist or being implicitly racial. My answer is, "absolutely." I would also add that every criticism leveled at Obama is not motivated by racial animus. There are deep philosophical and ideological divisions between Democrats and Republicans, Obama and Bachmann. But I don't think Bachmann was going "gangsta" on Obama when she brandished her broadside in 2009 or when she stood by it on "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Bachmann's birther musings and selective knowledge of this nation's history are another matter.

By Jonathan Capehart  | March 8, 2011; 5:58 PM ET
Categories:  Capehart  | Tags:  Jonathan Capehart  
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That ANYONE pays the slightest attention to this embarrasment of a representative is even more startling than her continual glorification of ignorance. She exists "for amusement purposes only" to anyone capable of rational thought.

Posted by: mrtimmaulden | March 8, 2011 8:00 PM | Report abuse

That ANYONE pays the slightest attention to this embarrasment of a representative is even more startling than her continual glorification of ignorance. She exists "for amusement purposes only" to anyone capable of rational thought.

Posted by: mrtimmaulden | March 8, 2011 8:01 PM | Report abuse

Good for Michele, Telling truth to power is never easy. She can expect nasty misogynistic ridicule from the left. She is brave and tough. More power to her.

Posted by: jy151310 | March 8, 2011 8:52 PM | Report abuse

Michele Bachman is bat-**** crazy. Certifiably looney. Straightjacket nutty. She opens her mouth and idiocy erupts. Anyone who takes her seriously is an idiot as well.

Posted by: Victoria27 | March 8, 2011 10:21 PM | Report abuse

I doubt that Bachmann intended this to have racial overtones. Nevertheless, her comment is still deeply offensive. Chicago-style "gangster" government suggests a deep level of corruption and tactics of intimidation and coercion. This is a totally false characterization of Obama, his administration and his tactics. Quite the contrary, he has been unfailingly civil, rational, moderately-spoken in his dealings with Congress. Bachmann should be ashamed of herself for this lie, as well as all the others she has told in the last 2 years.

Posted by: friedman05 | March 8, 2011 11:00 PM | Report abuse

And then there's the reality of just what the federal government did with the auto companies and how necessary it was to keep eve more folks from losing their jobs and more US auto-related businesses from going under.

But who cares about reality?

Posted by: pasc1 | March 9, 2011 12:59 AM | Report abuse

As an African American whose career has put me in situations where I'm often the only minority among a sizable group of colleagues I've noticed that many believe that because they don't audibly refer to African Americans as ni***rs that they are not espousing racial animus. But let there be no mistake there is a sizable population of Americans who harbor less than flattering opinions of minorities and choose to express these views under the guise of talking about welfare (although the majority of welfare recipients are not minority) or hip hop (eventhough the majority of sales of rap music are made to White teens) or of drug use/dealing (again also very prevalent in the White community). This code talk is pernicious and perpetuates myths espoused by folks like Ms Bachman.

Posted by: JDYoung | March 9, 2011 4:59 AM | Report abuse

Deductive reasoning and logic are absent from Michelle Bachmans repitoire. She plays to intolorance and emotion without thought to outcome. Plays on words do not solve problems. A self one person Tea Party Caucus in the house shows just how out there she is. WACKO and so are those who send her to Washington D.C.

thomas mcmahon
millis ma

Posted by: tommic856 | March 9, 2011 5:33 AM | Report abuse

Missing from these contemptuous remarks directed at Bachmann (by the commenters, not CK) is their extension to Barone. So why wouldn't they write off Barone as well, as "racist", as a "code-talker"?

I think we know why Matthews would not do so, that would require a Nexis search (too much work), but CK here makes it easy. Yet, silence.

Posted by: IowaHawkeye | March 9, 2011 6:16 AM | Report abuse

Please let Bachman continue to talk! Everytime she opens her mouth, along with Hucka"billy" and others she further ampliflies the reason President Obama MUST be re-elected. Let him finish and have as much time as his predecessor and as President Bush put it "let history be the judge of his presidency."

Posted by: TarheelChief2009 | March 9, 2011 8:20 AM | Report abuse

Bachmann is batty but right. This administration has been lawless- I choose that term over gangster- in the following areas:

1. Failure to discharge its constitutional duty to enforce the law, namely DOMA.

2. Ignoring two judicial orders to waive the drilling moratorium.

3. Knowingly falsifying reports claiming scientists supported moratorium.

4. Enforcing laws selectively. Suing AZ for enforcing immigrations in the same manner other states do (RI and MO).

5. Enforcing laws selectively on basis of race as in the Black Panther voter intimidation case.

6. Lying through their teeth about the cost of Obamacare. This is not isolated fudging but a full court press of deception.

7. Doing constant end runs around congress by appointing twice the czars of any other president and by using agencies to pass regulations that he couldn't get through Congress.

I take it back I like the term Gangster Government. Obama is after all from Chicago as are many of his top aides.

Posted by: jkk1943 | March 9, 2011 8:22 AM | Report abuse

Michelle is not stupid, but she is the ultimate opportunist. She didn't give a flying rat about the deficit or anything else until she saw the opportunity to hitch her wagon to the Tea Bag Party star and off she went. That she's succeeding is a testament not to her stupidity, but to the stupidity of the media and Tea Baggers for not seeing her for what she is.

Posted by: NotRightnorLeft | March 9, 2011 8:32 AM | Report abuse

It will depend on what/how she says it.

If it's "gangster", it's what the first group beleives
If it's "gangsta", it's the second.

To me, to insinuate otherwise says nothing about the speaker, only about the insinuator.

Posted by: MadiganT | March 9, 2011 8:41 AM | Report abuse

MB is a serial liar, and that's a fact.

Posted by: rowens1 | March 9, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Hey now, let's not forget that he is half white. (Not to mention he lives in Chicago.)

Barone must be psychic: He coined this phrase a year before Daley joined the WH.

(FWIW, I voted for Obama and will do so again. GangSTERS do, after all, get things accomplished.)

Posted by: Ralphinjersey | March 9, 2011 9:26 AM | Report abuse

Capehart is a two-trick pony. Blacks, gays, blacks, gays, etc.

Now, the term "gangster" is racist. Why? As he says, ", bandana-wearing, drug-dealing, drive-by-shooting thugs glorified and celebrated in gansta rap."

Now, who's to blame for the glorification and celebration of black thugs in rap?

Posted by: kitchendragon50 | March 9, 2011 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Funny, Jonathan, my dog sat and watched all of the clips you've mentioned in your piece and he didnt react to the whistle. Perhaps, there really is no whistle, no?

Posted by: sladenyv1 | March 9, 2011 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Funny, Jonathan, my dog sat and watched all of the clips you've mentioned in your piece and he didnt react to the whistle. Perhaps, there really is no whistle, no?

Posted by: sladenyv1 | March 9, 2011 10:54 AM | Report abuse

Even though I find many of Bachmann's comments to be embarrassing and counter productive to conservative causes, I don't think there's much merit to the idea that the use of the term "ganster" has any connection to dog whistle politics. Where's the proof of it, intentional or otherwise? There is none because all Capeheart has is a line of casual-at-best reasoning. That's not proof but mere speculation.

I think Capeheart is an intelligent blogger for WaPo but this post is just race baiting.

Posted by: Fitz157 | March 9, 2011 11:09 AM | Report abuse

Michele Bachmann is a RACIST!!!!! One only needs to look at the area she represents, where many of her constituents are in-bred, that's why she's been re-elected. What has she done for them? Absolutely nothing! What has she done for herself? Making millions brown-nosing the likes of the Koch brothers to continue with her ignorant diatribes. She may be a lawyer, but a very dumb one. Every lawyer isn't smart.

She's catty and ignorant. When the black farmers won their case after years of discrimination (her family benefited from the loans), her comments were that that was one of the biggest frauds perpetrated upon the American taxpayers. Well, she forgets who pays her salary, and she is certainly one of the biggest frauds perpetrated upon the American taxpayers. She's an embarrassment and a disgrace to intelligent Republican women. That's why she was put on the Intelligence Committee, because she can't talk about what is going on.

She and her "gangsta" Tea Party cohorts can dig a hole and drop in it.

Posted by: bander2400 | March 9, 2011 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The charge of government favoritism on the auto bankruptcies is not made up, it is 100% true - the govmnt pushed an d cajoled to change legal precedent and at some point if it continues then companies if sectors considered liekly to be intervened by the govmnt will have to pay higher rates to borrow or find borrrwoing hard - no one likes to lose their investment unfairly and with new rules (even left leaning democrats)
The rest of the article is really stupid, just trying to dsitract from the key point above by trying to say Barone and then Bachman are racists. Maybe the gangster government term is not the best (or maybe it is too complex for liberals to understand) but none of the said 'Gangsta' or other variant that could be conceived to be related to the Gang inspired rap and attire that is sometimes used by african americans (and others), and the oroginal gangsters were good old white italian or in some cases jewish guys as anyone who knows any history (or even watched some movies and tv knows)

Posted by: CTTaxpayer | March 9, 2011 12:27 PM | Report abuse

Smart people in Minnesota, on the left, who disagree with most everything Bachmann proposes, but who actually sit down and talk to her? They respect the coherence of her strategy and thought.

The fact that she doesn't acquiesce before identity politics doesn't make her or anyone else a racist. It means that she and everybody else think identity politics failed.

I think this business of people saying "She's a racist because I say she is and what I say is good enough for me" are running out of rope. We're all bored with it, we can't be intimidated by it, the president is black in case no one has noticed, and for goodness sakes, James Clyburn and Farrakhan are post-racial?

Posted by: IowaHawkeye | March 9, 2011 2:09 PM | Report abuse

And what would Bachman call Dick Cheney's secret meeting with the energy industry dons--er, leaders--resulting in the regulatory environment that led to the Gulf oil spill?

Take the government out of the equation and you're still left with the gangsters.

Posted by: EthelredtheUnready | March 9, 2011 2:42 PM | Report abuse

Saving the auto industry was important in that we need industry in America. The right has decreed that we remain the policeman of the world and want us to invade? China?

Posted by: searenbur | March 9, 2011 3:56 PM | Report abuse

Bailing out the auto industry was the correct thing to do. After all we need industry to build the war machines insisted on by the right.

Posted by: searenbur | March 9, 2011 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The proof is in the pudding but liberals like Mathews and you would attack the messenger to discredit the message. Not one word was offered in proof to disprove Bachman’s statement. The Queen of Diamonds will always trump a couple of Jokers.

Posted by: paintbrushbright | March 9, 2011 11:15 PM | Report abuse

The proof is in the pudding but liberals like Mathews and you would attack the messenger to discredit the message. Not one word was offered in proof to disprove Bachman’s statement. The Queen of Diamonds will always trump a couple of Jokers

Posted by: paintbrushbright | March 9, 2011 11:29 PM | Report abuse

LOL There they go again.
Amazing , the parroting thing, invented and employed constantly by the liberals. Now they want us to think that the this is only a Republican thing. I think it was Carvel who invented the idea years ago, widely employed by the liberals " If you say a lie once , its a lie,. If you repeat it enough times, it becomes the truth." My jaw dropped when I recently heard a liberal accusing conservatives of this tactic.
Liberals sling mud and name call because they lose on the issues.
Palin is stupid.
O'Donnel is a witch.
Obamacare will save billions.
Everyone knew there was $105 billion in Obamacare when it was passed.
OOPS! Does that mean Pelosi LIED when she said we wouldn't know what was in it until after we pass it? Fortunately you can tell when a liberal is lying. They open their mouth.

Posted by: StephenWV | March 11, 2011 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Huh? Capehart goes to great lengths to define what the various subliminal meanings of "gangster" are and then states, "...I don't think Bachmann was going "gangsta" on Obama..."

But he doesn't devote a single word why he's defending her. She's clearly a vile, racist, homophobic hate-monger. I wonder why this black man loves her so much...?

Posted by: sellersfrank | March 11, 2011 12:01 PM | Report abuse

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