WASHINGTON — The Cliven Bundy spectacle in Nevada has provided a Wild West backdrop for our hottest political issues as we gallop toward the midterm elections.
Politically, the conflict between the Bureau of Land Management and the Bundy family has highlighted the importance of picking one’s battles wisely. Suffice to say, a smattering of pundits and politicians drank from the wrong chalice.
One day, Bundy was the new face for conservative opposition to federal expansionism, 2014’s Joe the Plumber, a human metaphor for the last man armed and standing for freedom against the superior forces of federal agents.
Then, cue funeral dirge, Bundy wandered off-script and spoke his fevered mind. The tall, Stetson-topped Bundy wondered whether African-Americans weren’t better off as slaves picking cotton than living on the plantation of government subsidy. The hook, the hook! Where’s that dadgum hook?!
“Negroes,” Bundy further observed, abort their babies and put their men in prisons. Young black males were in trouble, he said, because they hadn’t been taught to pick cotton.
Obviously, there’s no defending Bundy’s remarks. Pundits and politicians, including most notably Sean Hannity, Sen. Rand Paul and Texas Gov. Rick Perry quickly distanced themselves from the Bundy comments, though not, curiously, from his objections to the government’s authority over grazing lands.
Well, of course they would disavow racist remarks. But they also never should have aligned themselves with someone who not only flouts the law but also has armed himself against government agents, indicating his willingness to protest through violence.
What’s next, a shootout in Statuary Hall?
For years, meanwhile, Bundy has been enjoying the benefits of public property for grazing privileges without paying fees or taxes, as required by federal law and as reinforced by various court rulings through the years. He did pay local and state taxes, but refuses to recognize federal authority.
That Bundy has been acting illegally is not in dispute. The recent, made-for-media confrontation was in fact the finale in a years-long string of court battles, none of them resolved in Bundy’s favor. Simply, Bundy doesn’t recognize the U.S. government, period. Inarguably, he was not the brightest exhibit for conservative arguments for government- or self-restraint, not to mention the rule of law.