Ostensibly, Cliven Bundy’s cattle grazing controversy could not have come at a more opportune time for conservatives. The perceived momentum heading into November’s elections had begun to lose some of its steam prompting one Republican strategist to say this week “Republicans may have peaked too early.” Senate races in Arkansas, Louisiana and North Carolina where Democrats were supposed to be in peril seemed to be much closer then had been previously imagined. The ongoing failure on the part of Congressional Republicans to move forward on immigration once again took center stage and the now open warfare within the G.O.P. between the establishment and the Tea Party continues apace. More importantly the monotonous and hackneyed droning on about Obamacare has begun to lose some of it’s resonance in the wake of three facts. One is that 8 million people have signed up for health insurance and secondly, recent polling shows, that while many Americans are unhappy with the Affordable Care Act most of the dissatisfied want it repaired not repealed and replaced. Finally, even if a majority of the disgruntled favored repeal, the Republican Party, after eight years in opposition has yet to construct a health care alternative. Enter the Cliven Bundy cattle controversy into which conservative commentators and pundits of all stripes piled onto with almost reckless abandon, seeking to capitalize on the conservative base’s anti-government fervor only to discover, a few days on, two inconvenient facts that would come back to undermine their latest conservative celebrity du jour.
First, in spite of all of the efforts on the part of conservative commentators to force fit Bundy’s transgressions into a “government overreach” template the fact stands that Bundy has been using federal land for his private cattle on the taxpayer’s dime. A perusal of commentary on that reliably anti-government website TownHall.com, among others, reveals the type of jury-rigged logic employed in much of the commentary posted in support of Bundy. Many would argue that while Bundy might be technically at fault for not paying the Federal government grazing fees his transgression was trumped by his “moral” case against government overreach. Then there is the far-fetched folly of an idea, propagated by Bundy himself, that because he personally does not recognize the existence of the Federal government, that that somehow really matters or changes anything in the real world. Some would see the unfolding incident as the beginning of a new anti-government crusade or at the very least, a revival of the last one.
The inherent fault of the aforementioned “logic” became all the more apparent when Tucker Carlson, host of Fox and Friends, Editor in Chief of the conservative Daily Caller and no friend of the Obama administration, pointed out that Bundy’s actions are neither legal or ethical. Quoting Carlson “…the Bundys don’t have a legal case that I can see, to be totally honest about it. And this is public land. This is not land that they own. And if you are going to use public land for profit, you have to pay for it, and they haven’t. And so the bottom line, and I think this is something conservatives ought to remember, if you want a ranch without any impediment at all, you have to buy your own ranch. That is the essence, that is the core principle behind private property which undergirds conservatism. So I have a lot of sympathy for the Bundys. I think they were completely mistreated by the federal government. But I still think it’s important to point out that this land does not belong to them, and that’s not a minor distinction. It’s the essence of private property.” Carlson’s opinion was seconded by his fellow conservative commentators Juan Williams and A.B. Stoddard, both Fox News regulars and bona fide conservative commentators in their own right. Another important point that undermines the anti-government claque supporting Bundy was made by Timothy Egan in “Deadbeat on the Range” where he pointed out that: “Ranching is hard work. Drought and market swings make it a tough go in many years. That’s all the more reason to praise the 18,000 or so ranchers who pay their grazing fees on time and don’t go whining to Fox or summoning a herd of armed thugs when they renege on their contract. You can understand why the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association wants no part of Bundy.”
While conservative commentators wrestled with the flawed logic of trying to justify Bundy’s trampling of cherished conservative principles with their own penchant to vilify the Federal government no matter the particulars of this case, it was Bundy himself who made his new found friends look all the more foolish by revealing his own intemperate views on race. Bundy’s ill concieved remarks are now well known and need not be repeated here. That said, owing to the ongoing problems that the conservative movement has with the minority communities, Bundy’s comments can only do more harm than good. And herein lies the great irony of Cliven Bundy and his relationship to the conservative movement. For one thing not only has he acted in a manner that is contridictory to the conservative principals and beliefs, he has acted as the very type of “moocher” that conservatives have often attributed to those who occupy government funded housing projects or receive publicly funded assistance. I can only wonder what one of the columnists on TownHall.com, Dr. Ben Carson, must now think having written a post in support of Cliven Bundy. For you see Dr. Carson is an African-American, a retired neurosurgeon, and according to Cliven Bundy, he would be better suited to picking cotton than practicing medicine or opining about politics. Oh and just one more point, why out of some 18,000 plus ranchers does Bundy need a de facto federal handout? Don’t conservatives believe in a competitive market place? If so, why should Bundy get a free ride while his competitors pay their grazing fees without engineering an armed protest? If Bundy can’t profitably run a cattle business without a de facto public handout shouldn’t he be allowed to fail as part of the back and forth of an economically competitive ranching sector? Read the rest of this entry →