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Tilting at Windmills

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January 13, 2011

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.

Steve Benen 1:50 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (38)

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

Years of exposure to the dishonest cesspool that is the WSJ's op-ed page leads me to conclud they aren't.

I wonder, though, if it matters that Taranto's alleged defense of Palin is an own goal. By the standards of the so-called "liberal media," it's "out there."

Posted by: Gregory on January 13, 2011 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

The editorial page of the WSJ would make the editors of Newsmax cringe. As wrong as it was, what Taranto said was mild compared to some of the vile crap they've spewed over the years.

Posted by: Stetson Kennedy on January 13, 2011 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

Well...just look at who owns the Wall Street Journal now.

Just sayin'.

Posted by: kindness on January 13, 2011 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

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

At this point? Apparently not.

The Evil-or-Stupid discussion just gets more and more irrelevant. They're clearly both.

Posted by: LL on January 13, 2011 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

Too much Kool Aid in that Tea they are drinking. So what else is new. Up is down, and Down is up.

Richard Nixon calling out Adlai for bad language?
Newt impeaching Clinton while banging his secretary?
Reagan raising taxes?
Reps decrying the Obama deficit after what they did to the surplus?
The chicken hawks who want to go to war but never served?

I could go on and on and on....

Posted by: Mike Reilly on January 13, 2011 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Disturbingly, the lie about the truthful quotation was never designed to placate anyone but the true believers. Then the context lie was designed to allow true believers to feel a sense of intellectual superiority by fraudulently spinning the actual quote for any right wingers still paying heed. None of it resonates well in a world where reality relies on objective truth. In GOP Toxic Speech World, they no longer understand restraint or nuance. They like words that sting. Blood libel. Job killing. Reload. They amuse themselves by scaring thoughtful people. They then complain when they are not taken seriously. See Palin.

Posted by: Sparko on January 13, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

The WSJ certainly isn't alone in terms of awful journalism. Apparently(I refuse to visit their site), Politico ran a story today claiming Obama undermined the federal case against the Tucson shooter last night, because he said Judge Roll stopped by the Giffords event to say 'Hi', as opposed to talking about the caseload for the 9th circuit.

Posted by: Holmes on January 13, 2011 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Bachman and her cohorts don't want their violent rhetoric curbed because it's all they have. Imagine an NFL team whose sole defense is illegal hits. Take that away, they got nuthin'. Their "ideas" are either ludicrous or nonexistent. The only way they can get attention is to (metaphorically speaking) walk into a crowded theatre and yell, "Fire!" When people are trampled to death in the resulting chaos, they take vast umbrage and say, "Well, WE didn't trample anybody."

Posted by: dalloway on January 13, 2011 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

It has become fairly clear over the last few days that the voices who traffic in divisive, us-versus-evil rhetoric intend to double down. Limbaugh certainly has. As evidenced here, the WSJ has. The talk show clowns on our local Clear Channel station have.

There is an element that values this rhetoric as an effective avenue to personal or political power. They're not backing away, even in light of the recent shooting.

Posted by: Quaker in a Basement on January 13, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

off thread -Kay Hutchinson (R-TX) announced she won't run again (she'd have been beaten by the TeaBagger candidate anyway). This seat was once thought to be coveted by Gov. Rick "pretty hair" Perry but with his eye on the WH should Sarah wilt (she may have just done that), any number of Hard Right Conservative Evangelical TeaBagging candidates are going to stage one heck of a fight for the nomination....unless the fix is in for Dewhurst, current second in command behind Perry. Look for him to announce soon.
P.S. not a chance in Texas that a Dem will win this seat.

Posted by: T2 on January 13, 2011 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

The Jefferson reference was dog whistle for this:
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants"

The tea partiers seem to love this quote for osme reason.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on January 13, 2011 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

@dalloway: Good summary!

Posted by: Athena on January 13, 2011 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

This argument is hilarious! If you look at it as a human in reality it is very plain stated, revoluntionarily undertoned, irreverent rhetoric. It says explicitly "armed and dangerous"!

If you look at it like a bloodthirsty idiot in dumbassland you can see, in any context, whatever you care to "imagine".


Posted by: Trollop on January 13, 2011 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

I read Taranto's full editorial, and I have to scratch my head about what his point was. The best I can guess is his complaint about the word "eliminationist" used by Krugman. Michele Bachman may have been calling for armed revolution, but not all armed revolutions are eliminationist.

Posted by: Daryl McCullough on January 13, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

The WSJ is a very important tool for 'telling the believers what they want to hear'. That is, the primary audiences of the WSJ believe that 'free markets' are the source of all economic well being for a country and its society. The WSJ convincingly tells them what they already believe. 'Fair Markets' are considerably different than 'free markets' and shall not be discussed in the WSJ.

Historically, the WSJ has served this purpose for decades. It has almost always been republicans that best serve those with vested interests in perpetuating this set of beliefs. Therefore, spin directed at supporting republicans is the norm.

There have been only relatively minor changes in approach at the WSJ since Rupert Murdoch bought it. Among the changes that I personally find amusing are that prior to Murdoch there was a front page column each day listing crimes (and suspected crimes) that corporate America were involved in. Almost to the day that Murdoch took over the WSJ, that column did NOT get moved to inside the paper; it was DISAPPEARED.

Remember the main mottos of those of us from the wealthy wing of the republican party (also the bulk of the WSJ readers):
- More is NEVER enough
- I've got mine, f*ck you

Posted by: RepublicanPointOfView on January 13, 2011 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

"You just said you wanted to kill me!"
"No, I didn't you liar! I just said I wanted to chop your head off and use it as a bowling ball! At no point did I say I wanted to kill you! Stop spreading rumors about me or you'll be sorry1"

aaaaaand scene.

Posted by: slappy magoo on January 13, 2011 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

And just think. Bachmann is now on the House's intelligence committee and has called for the investigation of un-American Congress members. I'l sleep well tonight.

Posted by: adolphus on January 13, 2011 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

I'm a little tired of the "we're losing our country!!" hysteria from Bachman and crew.

They should just shut the fuck up. It's ridiculous.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on January 13, 2011 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

unless the fix is in for Dewhurst, current second in command behind Perry. Look for him to announce soon. P.S. not a chance in Texas that a Dem will win this seat. Posted by: T2

Dewhurst wants the seat and is already tracking right with his rhetoric.

Anyway, are you in TX? if not, quit with the dire predictions.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on January 13, 2011 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

After reading some of the comments on the WSJ article, I know one thing, ain't nothing going to change anytime soon.

Posted by: ComradeAnon on January 13, 2011 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, no pun intended, but M. Bachmann is a dead-ender! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on January 13, 2011 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

below is from http://www.thedemocraticstrategist.org/strategist/2011/01/jared_loughner_appears_to_be_c.php

A virtual who's who of conservatives - from George Will and Marc Thiessen to virtually every well-known conservative media figure and blogger has now reacted with outrage to the idea that violent rhetoric by conservatives had anything to do with the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Many, in fact, reverse the accusation and claim that they are the victims of a new "McCarthyism" or a "blood libel" when critics suggest that violent rhetoric by conservatives in any way contributed to the crime.

On the currently available evidence, Jared Loughner appears to be psychotic and delusional and not a typical right-wing extremist. However, it would be interesting to ask the conservative "who's who" if they also believe that violent right-wing rhetoric had nothing to do with the following 21 attacks or thwarted attacks that left 8 innocent people dead {there follows a list from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence}

Posted by: Steve_A_Dor on January 13, 2011 at 3:08 PM | PERMALINK

"I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back." If she had stopped there I believe you could argue she was referring to "armed" with the facts and therefore "dangerous" in a political "fight." However, by continuing with the references to revolution and taking back our country she created a violent context for her initial statement. Krugman was correct.

Posted by: leoguy on January 13, 2011 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Eh, I see Taranto's point -- that Bachmann means armed with information and mad as hell, not "go git yer guns!"

That said, part of the issue with this whole discussion is that conservatives want to say "these are metaphors, they're not incitements to violence," and on the one hand that's true, but on the other hand IMHO part of the issue is precisely their recurrent resorting to violent metaphors. The basic game Republicans have been playing is to make it seem like Democrats are on the verge of establishing tyranny, and what's needed is a people's uprising to stop that in its tracks. That leads many impressionable people into some worrisome directions, because instead of struggling over politics, the stakes seem to have been raised to the essence of America itself.

This is what Jon Stewart was trying to get Tim Pawlenty to understand last night, and Pawlenty either wasn't getting it or was pretending not to get it.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on January 13, 2011 at 3:18 PM | PERMALINK

I thought the term "Armed and Dangerous" referred to criminals.

Posted by: Tom on January 13, 2011 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe I'm going to come to Bachmann's defense on this, but here goes.

Anyone who's spent much time posting on the internet has, sooner or later, discovered just how easy it is for someone else to read into your words something that never occurred to you as you were saying it. Is it possible that that's what happened with this quotation? Maybe.

We're all familiar with the maxim, "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing." When I read that quote from Bachmann, and try to understand what she might have meant OTHER THAN inciting armed resistance (on cap and trade, no less; not exactly your normal hot-button issue), I'm struck by the fact that she wants people to come to her website to get information, so that they are "armed and dangerous on this issue." Is it really so clear that she wasn't just asking her constituents to get informed, so that they can "fight back" with the information?

Now, the invocation of Jefferson and "revolution" tends to lend this a sinister cast, but that's become meaningless boilerplate to this crowd. They view kicking mainstream Republicans (like Kay Bailey Hutchinson) out of office as a "revolution." Was there any thought of actual bloodshed there? I'm not convinced.

That's not to say that she couldn't have been a little more careful in her choice of words and imagery, but that gets to the real problem: in order to get free publicity, too many public officials are choosing the most incendiary words possible, without giving appropriate consideration to how some people might interpret those words.

Posted by: retr2327 on January 13, 2011 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, I can't entirely condemn Bachmann this one time.

It's figurative use. She means armed with information from her web site and dangerous in an argment over cap and trade.

They're both right. The choice of words plays to the gun-loving tendencies even as the context of cap-and-trade argument makes it fairly clear that information is the weapon of choice.

Sending followers to her web site for information about cap and trade is a separate, dubious suggestion, but one bad idea ata time, yes?

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on January 13, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

Taranto isn't bright enough to do this, so let me play devil's advocate for Ms Bachmann.
""I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax . . .And I am going to have materials for people when they leave."

Perhaps she is talking about being armed with information- the printed "materials" she has.

As to the dangerous part of the quote- well, an informed person is deadly in debate with the in ill and uninformed. Gore Vidal or Christopher Hitchens debating the existence of "God" with a shoeless snake handler in Appalachia.

-but then, nobody would confuse Bachmann with Gore Vidal. . .

Posted by: DAY on January 13, 2011 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

-looks like I need to learn to type faster!

Posted by: DAY on January 13, 2011 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

Good close out to this post Steve. It's not about are they lying? But instead are the lies working? This time, no.

Posted by: angler on January 13, 2011 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

Pleased to see that, as of just now,
there are just 239 "likes" logged
of SP's video that she posted on Vimeo . . .
that is from 807,000 views

May she find a peaceful life in AK with
the rest of the trailer trash
with which she surrounds herself . . .
And stop trying to be a leader in America, which she obviously is NOT.

Posted by: Steve_A_Dor on January 13, 2011 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

MB need not have been "inciting armed resistance"
in order for her language to contribute to
the confidence, willingness to act, and overall passion/energy level of the
anti- THIS
anti- THAT
let's overthrow the government

she is more than an imbecile,
which I find hard to conclude,
she is utterly irresponsible.

Posted by: Steve_A_Dor on January 13, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

If information on energy tax policy is outlawed, only outlaws will have information on energy tax policy.

This is really what scares you guys?

Posted by: Jim Treacher on January 13, 2011 at 6:41 PM | PERMALINK

Given the context (which I didn't have before), I'm crossing this one off my list of right-wing rhetorical outrages. "Armed and dangerous" is a perfectly acceptable, even somewhat clever, metaphor for having sufficient information to fight back against a policy proposal one doesn't like. And sorry, Prof. Krugman, but citing just the phrase itself without the context is simply misleading.

Our hypersensitivity about this kind of thing is understandable given the current situation, but we need to get it under control if we don't want to make fools of ourselves.

Posted by: Swift Loris on January 13, 2011 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

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

Yes. Because the people they are lying to have the IQ of a Bachman or a Palin at best. Democrats or liberals don't have to believe them, only their base needs to.

The true test of their effectiveness is simply if the dogwhistle had the desired result.

Posted by: LosGatosCA on January 13, 2011 at 11:55 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Bachmann is being figurative here in mentioning "armed and dangerous", but can we all agree that the paraphrase of Jefferson was dumb, considering that the latter individual was NOT being metaphorical in his mention of "revolutions?"

Posted by: daniel rotter on January 14, 2011 at 12:35 AM | PERMALINK

So what was the "context" for President Obama's remark about bringing a gun to a knife fight? And is there a Democratic candidate or office holder anywhere who isn't daily promising to "fight for us" in Washington. The Left and their legion of echo chamber journalists exploited a tragedy for political purposes and to silence their critics who have been very effective at communicating using alternative media. I recall a time when Charlie Peters and the Washington Monthly were "alternative" voices. Gosh, I am old.

Posted by: David Davis on January 14, 2011 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

This is a nitpick, but on the small issue of whether Krugman called Bachmann's rhetoric "eliminationist," I'm with Taranto. Krugman seems to be using "eliminstionist rhetoric" and "toxic rhetoric" interchangeably. In Krugman, Bachmann's quote isn't an example of "toxic rhetoric," it's an example of "that toxic rhetoric," meaning he is referring to something he has just said. And the previous paragraph that he refers to includes the phrase "eliminationist rhetoric," not "toxic rhetoric." I know that you are drawing a distinction between the two terms, but Krugman himself doesn't. Maybe he should have, but he just uses the two terms synonymously. So Taranto's characterization of Krugman's characterization of Bachmann's remarks seems valid. I think Taranto has a (very minor) point that Krugman is being ambiguous with his language.

Now, just because Krugman calls Bachmann's rhetoric "eliminationist" (which I think he more or less does) doesn't mean that Krugman is lying when he says that.

Posted by: Michael on January 14, 2011 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK



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