Cliven Bundy and his fellow malcontents are back in the news, this time trying to rally support for Assembly Bill 408 that displays as much contempt for reality and the law as Bundy does himself.
Bundy’s radical claim, which he uses as an excuse to not pay the fees owed for grazing his cattle on publicly owned land, has been that the United States government has no authority to manage federal lands in Nevada. In fact, he has gone further, saying, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
That is much the same sentiment embodied in AB408, sponsored by Assemblywoman — and Bundy ally — Michele Fiore. The bill, in obvious conflict with both the U.S. and Nevada Constitutions, asserts state ownership over all public lands, waters and minerals in Nevada. It would also prohibit the U.S. government from enforcing any laws or regulations within the state, and require counties to give away development rights.
Regardless of where one stands on public land policy, the self-serving and anarchistic radicalism of Bundy and his followers should be troubling to anyone who seeks a stable society and a strong nation.
Conservatism is the opposite of radicalism. It recognizes the importance of order, personal responsibility, values and the rule of law. Conservatism is also about freedom, but a conservative understands that freedom and responsibility go hand-in-hand. You cannot have one without the other.
Such concepts appear lost on Bundy. His entitlement mentality demands total freedom to do whatever he wants, but he rejects any corresponding obligation on his part.
Ranchers all across the West who graze cattle on federally managed public lands, willingly pay the below-cost grazing fees charged to reimburse taxpayers for the privilege. But Cliven Bundy believes that he is somehow entitled to graze cattle for free on land he does not own.
Not only is Bundy’s refusal to pay unfair to every rancher who holds a grazing permit, it robs each and every one of us — the taxpayers who own the land — of a return on our investment. Worse yet, Bundy’s position is a denial of legitimate property rights.
Last year, when he rallied others to his side and incited them to take up arms against the government, he was not fighting for some noble cause, he was merely trying to preserve his freeloading ways and defend his right to trespass.
Bundy is essentially asserting himself as the sole arbiter of whose property rights he recognizes, and whose he deems invalid. Whatever the reason or grievance, real or imagined, the only opinion that matters is his own. What then is to prevent him or any of his supporters from ignoring the property rights of a neighboring rancher, a business owner, a state or county?
Bundy is no champion of freedom; he is a bully who thinks himself above the law. Through his unwillingness to recognize law and the authority of the courts, he has rung up roughly $1 million in fees and fines over the past two decades.
Our founding fathers established this nation on the principle of ordered liberty. They also made it clear in the U.S. Constitution that federal law shall be the “supreme Law of the Land,” and that even a state’s constitution is subordinate to federal law. Bundy has no legitimate justification to ignore federal law and court orders, yet he does just that.
We live in a representative democracy, with a government that is of, by and for the people. We enjoy greater freedoms than the rest of the world, and we hold the means to change things we don’t like.
And while most Americans — especially conservatives — are imbued with love of country, patriotism and concern for the greater good, Bundy shows no such inclinations, only contempt for the United States and the Constitution. His hateful rhetoric boarders on sedition and exposes views akin to an 1860s secessionist.
If we all believed and behaved like Cliven Bundy, there would be no rule of law, no ordered liberty, and no United States of America.
David Jenkins is president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship.