The context of ‘armed and dangerous’

THE CONTEXT OF ‘ARMED AND DANGEROUS’…. Any discussion of rhetorical excesses from Republican officials invariably includes some standard examples. Near the top of the list is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of Congress’ most ridiculous members, who urged her supporters to be “armed and dangerous” in 2009.

Paul Krugman noted the phrase in his column this week, generating an angry response from the Wall Street Journal‘s James Taranto. The Republican writer called the Bachmann anecdote “fraudulent” and accused Krugman of telling a “little lie” in his column. (Taranto added, “Krugman and his colleagues on the Times editorial board are not skilled enough to be effective liars.”)

Who’s right? You can probably guess, but let’s set the record straight. Krugman cited Bachmann’s quote as an example of “toxic rhetoric” that’s “overwhelmingly” generated by the right. Taranto argues that the context of Bachmann’s quote is important.

Fair enough. Here’s the context for the phrase, published by Taranto himself. (I haven’t independently verified the accuracy of Taranto’s version — he cites a blogger I’m unfamiliar with — but I’m happy to give Taranto the benefit of the doubt.) The subject at hand was Bachmann’s concerns about a cap-and-trade proposal in March 2009.

“But you can get all the latest information on this event, this .. a must-go-to event with this Chris Horner. People will learn … it will be fascinating. We met with Chris Horner last week, 20 members of Congress. It takes a lot to wow members of Congress after a while. This wowed them. And I am going to have materials for people when they leave.

“I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us, having a revolution every now and then is a good thing, and the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country. And I think this has the potential of changing the dynamic of freedom forever in the United States and that’s why I want everyone to come out and hear. So go to bachmann.house.gov and you can get all the information.” [pauses reflect pauses, not omitted text]

Taranto seems to think this context proves Krugman wrong. I suppose concepts like “toxic rhetoric” are somewhat subjective, but after reading the context, and seeing Bachmann talk about “armed and dangerous” supporters, the prospect of a “revolution,” and the possibility of Americans losing their freedom and their country — all over a proposal that was originally a Republican idea anyway — I’m comfortable concluding that Krugman isn’t the one who’s “lying.”

Jon Chait responded to Taranto this way: “So wait — your defense of Bachmann is that, in the context of urging her followers to be ‘armed and dangerous,’ she immediately proceeded to extol the benefits of armed revolution? This is supposed to be exculpatory? I think it’s a perfect example of the right’s hysteria directly legitimizing violence.”

It’s enough to make me wonder if the editors of the Wall Street Journal are skilled enough to be effective liars.

Update: Taranto emails to argue, “What I called a lie is Krugman’s characterization of Bachmann’s statement as ‘eliminationist rhetoric,'” and urges me to run a correction.

The problem, of course, is that Krugman didn’t characterize Bachmann’s statement as “eliminationist rhetoric.” The phrase appeared in Krugman’s column, but specifically in reference to Bachmann’s remarks, the NYT columnist cited “armed and dangerous” as an example of “toxic rhetoric” that’s “overwhelmingly” generated by the right, which is precisely what I published above. As such, I’m at a loss as to explain what it is I’m supposed to correct.