Cliven Bundy’s awful views should not be news

 

To paraphrase Sean Hannity, we’re getting awfully far away from the tortoise.

You know that it is a slow week for news when the big story is that a man who thinks he should be allowed to let his cattle graze harmoniously for free on protected federal lands might have some racist opinions. What? Why do we care about his thoughts on race? Why, for that matter, were we listening to him in the first place?

But Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, the man with the aforementioned cattle, is big news. Sean Hannity, interviewing him Monday, noted, “I guess this goes to the heart of it here because what we’ve always been talking about is the government fighting over land that they don’t need for a hospital or a road or a school, and the land is going to be sitting there anyway, and all the cows are doing is eating and maybe going to the bathroom on it. They said originally this was about the desert tortoise. How did we get to this point where the government sends hundreds of people in there? There seems to be a total lack of proportionality in this.”

Yes, the land was just sitting there. That, as Jon Stewart suggested, is why Hannity was such a robust and vigorous supporter of the Occupy movement. Besides, what’s a herd of cows to a tortoise? What’s any of us to a tortoise? If Sean Hannity were a tortoise, he would welcome the presence of cows around him.

To say this has not been handled spectacularly well by the Bureau of Land Management is a gross misunderstatement. Even when the person in question is a rancher who doesn’t believe the federal government has any rights to federal lands, it is easy to feel a pang of sympathy for him when armed agents are headed in to seize his cattle in order to pay his grazing fees and also possibly tangentially to protect a tortoise somehow. If there is one thing that Real Americans dislike, it is federal overreach, with armed agents, to protect some kind of slow endangered critter. If that tortoise and that sage grouse want to survive so badly, they should evolve faster, or do whatever their preferred alternative to evolution is.

I’m not sure why his comments on slavery are news, though.

Why are we surprised that someone who has been taking his lines directly from the War Of Northern Aggression Talking Points manual has retrograde views about slavery? Why is this the point when everyone decides he is beyond the pale, when he pondered aloud to a New York Times reporter whether “the Negro” would not have been “better off as slaves”?

Why not before, when he was announcing to Sean Hannity that Harry Reid was “calling for a revolution or a civil war here? I mean, I don’t understand that” and lamenting, “Harry, why are you acting like this? Why, Harry, are you calling for a civil war? That’s not what we the people want. We just wanted you to disarm your army and get out of our state and start acting like citizens of the United States. That’s all we want, Harry,” with his son Ammon chiming in that, “Well, Sean, I just want to make sure that we stand that this is a state sovereignty issue. The states have the right to control and to govern this land, and the federal government doesn’t want to give that up. And that’s what this is about, and that’s where we stand. This is state land, and therefore, the federal government has no right to fine or to say they can rent this land to anybody within the land.”

That was fine. Reasonable. Normal. But when he told the New York Times that “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” and then went on to note that “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,” that was when we had to send in the metaphorical troops. (Yes, that was what slavery was about, “having a family life.” There is no need to go into all the myriad reasons why this is a ludicrous thing to say. It is, in every way.)

Meanwhile, the people who helped bring his struggle to prominence are still trying to dig him out of the hole, suggesting that it was “a lack of media training” that brought him to this pass.

Dana Loesch observed, “First, to take the quote at face value it’s odd and sounds offensive. You’re talking about government overreach and you go into this story? Secondly, I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family — which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity — so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government? I’m just trying to figure out how he even got to the point of discussing it and yes, it’s justified to have a healthy suspicion of the New York Times.”

Yes, that was the problem. A lack of media training. With media training, he might have said what he meant less clearly.

But this could have been avoided. A few weeks ago, if you’d asked the average news consumer whether Cliven Bundy should be considered a voice and representative of the conservative movement, that person would have looked at you as though you were some sort of nut. Now they’re not so sure. He’s been given a platform, called a hero, made into a representative figure and — his retrograde views are national news. They shouldn’t be.

© 2014, The Washington Post

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