By Marc Jampole
How Cliven Bundy became a hero to the right-wing is beyond me.
Bundy is the rancher who has refused to pay fees to graze his cattle on public lands for more than 20 years. As the New York Times noted, 16,000 other ranchers pay the fees, which are considered fairly cheap. But even the typical corporate giveaway involving federal government assets isn’t good enough for Bundy. Not only did he refuse to pay the nominal fees; when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rangers recently tried to confiscate 500 head of his cattle, he organized 50 supporters, some armed with handguns and rifles, to chase off them off. No one from the feds has come calling since then. Right-wing commentators and elected officials, including Rand Paul, have praised Bundy and his gumption to stand up to the evil federal government.
My question is why?
There is no doubt that Bundy has the appropriate atmospherics to be a right-wing cause célèbre: He’s a gun-toting cowboy who is defying the federal government and his views on abortion and minorities are in line with other conservatives.
But strip away the theatre and you are left with a long-term scofflaw with no redeeming case to make for himself.
He broke the law and right-wingers are supposed to support law and order.
Part of the right-wing program has always been to replace taxes on wealth and income with usage taxes. For decades conservatives have mouthed pieties about closing loopholes as opposed to raising taxes. All the expression “closing loopholes” means is to make people pay their fair share. Clearly, Bundy is not paying his fair share of the fees that clearly substitute for taxes on others.
And let’s not forget about the issue of property. Right-wingers place property above life itself. Right-wingers want to remove constraints on private property such as environmental and safety regulations. They uphold the right of someone to use a firearm to injure others in defense of property every time some trigger happy George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn kills a young black male.
Respect for the property of others and the cardinal importance of property rights are foundations of right-wing political theory. And yet they ignore the fact that Bundy is not respecting the property of others. That the property belongs to all of us shouldn’t matter, except to those who believe that the collective entry known as government should not hold property. These folks should imagine that the grazing lands were private. Bundy and the 16,000 other ranchers who haven’t defied the government would all be paying grazing fees—likely much higher than now—to an individual or a corporation. Right-wingers would clearly not rise in defense of someone who was poaching on the private property of another. In fact, the right wing would support the idea that the property owners could shoot Bundy and his ranchers as soon as they trespassed onto the land in question.
So how can the right-wing support him?
After the retreat of the BLM rangers, Good ol’ boy Cliven (or is that Cloven?) must have been feeling his oats, because in a Times interview, he came out against abortion and made some very obnoxious comments about African-Americans. He said that he remembers driving by a public-housing project in Las Vegas and seeing “at least a half-dozen (black) people sitting on the porch, they didn’t have nothing to do. Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton….And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
As to be expected, the same Republican Senators who supported Bundy are backing away now that he is expressing overt racism.
The Obama Administration has come away looking craven again, just as it does in all its negotiations with Republicans over budget issues. Once again Obama appears to be capitulating to the right wing.
Instead of backing off, BLM should have notified the Department of Justice and gotten some help and a lot of firepower. President Obama should have made sure that the BLM returned to the site with hundreds of armed agents, helicopters in the air and tanks. It should have given Bundy’s supporters amply time to stand down and leave with their guns. Then they should have taken the cattle by force.
There is no doubt that an assault on Bundy’s position would create a lot of negative publicity for the President, especially in the very unlikely event that someone were killed or injured; it’s far more likely that faced with a superior force, the ragtag army Bundy put together would dissipate. No matter, the right would excoriate Obama. Some would point out that the president is more willing to take arms against his own countrymen than Russia—a scurrilous and unpatriotic accusation since there is absolutely no support for putting U.S. troops into Ukraine. There is no doubt that some votes would be lost in the fall, especially since it’s likely the news media would jump on the forcible taking of Bundy’s cattle as another reason why the Democrats can’t win in November.
But I say, so what! The job of the President of the United States is not to get reelected or to help his party‘s nominees get elected. The president’s job is to uphold the laws of the United States. Giving into Bundy will just embolden others who have no respect of the laws of the United States to try similar stunts.