WASHINGTON -- Things are heating up inside Michele Bachmann’s office behind "enemy lines" in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
Her staff says a recent barrage of incoming calls comes mostly from friendly territory beyond the Beltway. But the second-term Republican doesn’t have to search far for enemies.
Giving passionate voice to conservative alarm over the growth of government’s reach and spending, Bachmann’s escalating rhetoric has delighted her stalwart supporters while unleashing a new storm of criticism.
But if she’s worried, it doesn't show. Despite a few public missteps that have provided YouTube moments for her detractors, Bachmann continues to talk like a woman on a mission.
"I haven't purposely been trying to be inflammatory," she said in an interview last week. "I’m trying to just explain to the American people what’s happening here in Washington, D.C."
Detractors scoff. There’s MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, calling Bachmann the "Mata Hari of Minnesota" to ridicule her recent quip about life as a conservative Republican in Barack Obama’s Washington, where she described herself as "a foreign correspondent on enemy lines."
The liberal blogosphere, meanwhile, has erupted in howls over her new campaign against a "one-world currency government" — leading her to tell conservative radio host Glenn Beck, "This is not Michele Bachmann being a kook."
That the question even came up is testament to the vitriol Bachmann has attracted after a string of national cable TV appearances stretching to last August, when a group of GOP members took over an empty House floor to push for expanded oil drilling.
‘Armed and dangerous’
Like few other Minnesota politicians, Bachmann and her populist utterances have grabbed the national media’s attention.
Her petite stature and telegenic looks have done little to soften the blowback from the rhetorical grenades she tosses at regular intervals on the Fox cable channel, such as when she told conservative host Sean Hannity that Obama’s stimulus spending and financial rescue package are taking the nation "down the lane of economic Marxism."
That came a few days after she told John Hinderaker of the conservative Northern Alliance Radio Network in the Twin Cities that Obama’s trillion-dollar cap-and-trade proposal for greenhouse gas emissions should be met with the moral equivalent of insurrection.
"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back," said Bachmann, who has expressed skepticism about global warming.
Although Bachmann’s office quickly clarified that she was speaking metaphorically, the quote went viral across the Internet. "Michele Bachmann calls for Armed Revolution!" screamed a headline in Wonkette, a satirical website devoted to D.C. political gossip.
Dozens of other liberal websites were still bombarding "armed and dangerous" when Bachmann turned up on CNN grilling Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about the AIG executive bonuses. Bachmann won plaudits from a few commentators for pressing the two on the constitutional authority for the $700 billion Wall Street bailout — which she and other conservatives consider an improper delegation of congressional power.
Meanwhile, CNN’s Lou Dobbs took up Bachmann’s defense of the dollar, suggesting that Geithner flip-flopped after acceding to Bachmann’s demand that he "categorically renounce" replacing the dollar with a global currency.
Bachmann’s question made newspapers from Taipei to London, because the head of China’s central bank has suggested replacing the weakened dollar as the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) global reserve currency for international investment.
A host of analysts say the IMF proposal is altogether different from replacing the dollar as legal U.S. tender, an idea that Obama has rejected. Nonetheless, Bachmann followed up with a proposal for a constitutional amendment barring the White House from adopting a foreign currency.
Bachmann’s resolution drew withering fire from the left, including the Progressive Politics Examiner’s Jay McDonough, who questioned whether Bachmann and her conservative talk-show supporters "just want to confuse and alarm their listeners."
In her interview, Bachmann stood firm, saying the real aim of China, Russia and a number of other nations is a sneak attack on the dollar and the creation of a new global currency. "It’s not coming from me," she said. "It’s coming from these other countries that are calling for it."
The currency flare-up, like much of Bachmann’s critique of the Obama administration, reflects a familiar conservative distrust of expansive government.
"She is capturing a lot of the frustration that many Republicans feel about the state of our federal government," said Sarah Janecek, a GOP strategist who has known Bachmann since the congresswoman’s days in the Minnesota Legislature. "To the extent that it resonates with real people, it’s a good thing."
Janecek says the frequent liberal attacks only help with Bachmann’s own conservative base. But given the need to court independent voters in her sprawling suburban district, Janecek and others warn that Bachmann has to watch how close she comes to the edge.
Bachmann’s critics thrive on expressions like "one-world currency government" — delivered on Hannity — to paint her as apocalyptic and unstable. Among the more understated responses in the liberal blogosphere came from Greg Sargent on the Plum Line blog, which called her "quite the colorful character."
Of Bachmann’s reference to "enemy lines," Minnesota DFL chair Brian Melendez said: "Calling one’s colleagues ‘enemies’ and oneself a ‘foreign correspondent’ is not only a roadblock to results, it is the exact spirit and tone that the American people so overwhelmingly rejected."
Bachmann was a relatively obscure junior House member when she appeared on MSNBC’s "Hardball" with Matthews in October and took a broad rhetorical swipe at Obama: "I’m very concerned that he may have anti-American views," she said.
The media furor that ensued introduced Bachmann to a national TV audience, and helped turn what had been a walk-away reelection bid into a tighter-than-expected race.
She later dismissed the remark as an "urban legend," suggesting she had been egged on by Matthews and taken out of context. Still, the clip became a popular one on YouTube. So did a more recent video clip where she was heard telling Mike Steele, the GOP National Committee’s first black chairman, "You be da man!"
Bachmann was also attacked recently for telling a national TV audience that congressional spending earmarks are "corrupt" and that she had not taken them in her three years in Congress. In fact, she had taken nearly $4 million in earmarks before taking an "anti-earmark" pledge.
Through it all, Bachmann has tended to see the media both as friend and foe. While a staffer on her three-person communications team books her TV appearances, Bachmann feels she has been in the cross-hairs of much of the Washington press.
"The misreporting has been far more frequent than my one misstatement [about the earmarks]," she said.
The media, she believes, are more comfortable with liberal populists — she mentioned the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone — than with outspoken conservatives such as herself.
"Michele Bachmann is a conservative," she said. "That’s what it is, and she’s not apologetic about it."
Kevin Diaz -- 202-408-2753