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Bachmann’s ‘armed and dangerous’ becomes example of ‘toxic political environment’

Rep. Michele Bachmann’s statement saying she wants Minnesotans “armed and dangerous” during a radio interview in 2009 has become a target of liberals in the wake of the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona this weekend. Rep. Keith Ellison, Bachmann’s neighbor to the south, said such statements have consequences, while New York Times columnist Paul Krugman used it as an example of the “climate of hate.”

In March 2009 on WWTC, Bachmann said, “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.”

As Americans search for answers as to why a 22-year old would open fire at a political event, many politicians and pundits have pointed to the increase in violence-tinged rhetoric, mainly (although not exclusively) from the conservative end of the spectrum. It’s mainly liberals making that leap — law enforcement authorities have yet to release details that might shed light on the motives of the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner.

Rep. Keith Ellison told MPR that the tragedy is an opportunity to scrutinize at the overly violent political rhetoric that has become a large part of the nation’s political climate:

“We’ve gotten so immune to it, and it doesn’t really rank in terms of priority because it’s just so ordinary, so regular,” Ellison said. “But we should never let it become ordinary. We should take these things seriously.”

Ellison notes that back in early 2009, his colleague, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., called for Minnesotans to be “armed and dangerous” in response to President Barack Obama’s energy plans.

Ellison said that kind of gun imagery doesn’t belong in the political discourse.

“The political rhetoric has grown increasingly toxic, and making allusions (to) guns and reloading, and armed and dangerous, certainly contributes to a toxic political environment, and does have consequences,” Ellison said.

Paul Krugman of the New York Times notes that there is room for debate in American politics, but not for “eliminationist rhetoric”:

The point is that there’s room in a democracy for people who ridicule and denounce those who disagree with them; there isn’t any place for eliminationist rhetoric, for suggestions that those on the other side of a debate must be removed from that debate by whatever means necessary.

And it’s the saturation of our political discourse — and especially our airwaves — with eliminationist rhetoric that lies behind the rising tide of violence.

Where’s that toxic rhetoric coming from? Let’s not make a false pretense of balance: it’s coming, overwhelmingly, from the right. It’s hard to imagine a Democratic member of Congress urging constituents to be “armed and dangerous” without being ostracized; but Representative Michele Bachmann, who did just that, is a rising star in the G.O.P.

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