If there’s one more thing we know about rancher Cliven Bundy, it’s that he doesn’t know two things about “the Negro.”
With a blockheaded comment Thursday in The New York Times, the bumpkin from Bunkerville managed to turn his battle with the Bureau of Land Management into a carnival sideshow of racial stereotyping. Now Bundy’s national conservative political posse has skedaddled from him faster than his “trespass cattle” ran from those BLM wranglers.
On Thursday afternoon, after Bundy’s opinion that poor African-Americans might prefer slavery to government assistance had circled the planet, he repeated his enormously insensitive views in a question-and-answer session with reporters and a greatly diminished group of followers. Hey, where’d everybody go?
Apparently, Cliven wasn’t jivin’ when he said he was still “a-wondering” whether blacks might be happier back in the Halcyon days of the master and lash when they enjoyed the freedom to do as they were told. Bundy again held forth on the idea of slavery and freedom and how he relates to the plight of African-Americans.
It turns out he’s still “a-wondering” whether they weren’t better off back where they came from somewhere in a hazy yesteryear when life in the South was simpler. How he spoke so long with not one but two booted feet in his mouth is the real wonder.
“Wouldn’t they have been happier at home, with their garden and their chickens, and their children playing around them and their family having work to do?” Bundy asked. “Would they?”
Bundy then appeared to become emotional as he recalled witnessing the 1965 Watts Riots. His hard-to-disprove anecdote included a story of being escorted from the racially charged conflagration down the Harbor Freeway to safety by two carloads of “black boys” he thought were out to do him harm. Just recently — about the time he publicly offered his insight into the life of “the Negro,” I suspect — the rancher had an epiphany.
“They were my angels,” he said. “They protected me. They made sure I got home. It took me 40 years to realize that they were my friends. But they were.”
Let’s hope it doesn’t take him that long to figure out the politicians and right-wing pundits who have been trumpeting his “patriotic” cause aren’t his angels or his friends. They’re playing him like a carnival rube.
Talk about the Lone Ranger. Last week Bundy was riding in style as Washington’s favorite conservative cowboy with U.S. Sen. Dean Heller calling him a “patriot” and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., defending his stance against the federal government. Today he’s one lonesome dove after Heller called his remarks “appalling and racist” and the libertarian dandy Paul said his spiel was “offensive.” Even Fox News conservative standard bearer Sean Hannity shouted that Bundy’s blather was “repugnant.”
Trouble is, Bundy was essentially parroting a long-held conservative political dogma. However inarticulately he said it, and not setting aside the obviously outrageous racial overtone, what he appeared to be trying to convey was the belief that a life on the dole isn’t freedom, but a form of slavery. That’s not a new idea. It’s a mantra repeated by followers of libertarian political philosophy, who often apply the adage of government enslaving the governed to everything from social programs to environmental protections and land use rules.
For the record, this view does not mean Bundy is prepared to willingly give up his own government land subsidy. Nor does he plan to start paying the grazing fees a federal court has determined he owes. Apparently, this independence business only goes so far.
Cliven Bundy proved this past week no race relations expert. Nor is he ready for prime time as a conservative political poster boy.
He’s just a rancher from Bunkerville with a herd of cattle to move and big bills coming due that, I’ll wager, none of his newfound friends will help him foot.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. Follow him on Twitter @jlnevadasmith.