Some things just had to happen, as the folks at Fox News and any number of Republican politicians just found out. Take up the Reagan mantra that big government is always the problem and never the solution, because the private sector, driven wholly by profit-motive in an unregulated unforgiving free market, will always come up with the best thing at the least cost, and you’ll be against big government. And you can talk about real freedom too, freedom from useless Washington bureaucrats, who knew nothing about how things work in the real world, where you produce something useful that people will pay for, or you die. Those useless Washington bureaucrats know nothing about that, and they should all just go away – markets should be free, and people should be free too. That was the problem fiscal and social conservatives always had with FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society, and why Ronald Reagan said that Medicare would mean end of freedom in America – because “pretty soon your son won’t decide when he’s in school, where he will go or what he will do for a living. He will wait for the government to tell him.” And of course “we are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children, what it once was like in America when men were free” – but that line of reasoning can be extended. If big government is inherently evil and crushes human souls, or at best is totally useless in a vaguely amusing sort of way, where do you draw the line between big government and appropriately-sized government?
The usual response from small-government conservatives is that government at the state level is about right. If the folks in one state want to say slavery is okay and the folks in another want to say it isn’t, let each state decide – and we had a civil war over that, involving more than slavery, perhaps, as tariffs and other matters were in dispute too. The Union won that war and the Confederacy lost, and those names weren’t just convenient shorthand. The United States was first organized with the 1777 Articles of Confederation – establishing what was basically a trade federation of thirteen sovereign nations, the former thirteen colonies, pledged to mutual defense, and not much more. The new federal government, such as it was, couldn’t raise taxes to fund its operations – each state could tax their own people as they saw fit and send the new federal government whatever spare revenue they wished, but that was entirely voluntary. That arrangement drove George Washington crazy – he was always bitching that he never had the proper funds to feed and clothe and equip the army he was given to defeat the British, because no one was chipping in, because they didn’t really have to, if they didn’t feel like it. That was one of many problems discussed for years, and on March 4, 1789, the Articles were replaced by a federal government under the new Constitution – establishing a stronger federal government with a chief executive – the president – and courts, which dealt with laws that applied to everyone in all states, and with actual taxing powers. A little over seventy years later, the aptly-named Confederacy, was still pissed off about that, and went to war almost as if to force America to go back to the original arrangement. Lincoln would have none of that, and prevailed. The Union Armies maintained the Union, and as many in the South will still tell you, stripped them of their freedom.
The Founding Fathers would weep, or so modern libertarians, the true Sons of the Confederacy, would say, although John Vecchione kind of doubts that:
The Founders believed in carefully delineated federal powers either broad (Hamilton) or limited (Jefferson, sometimes) – but all believed in a more powerful state than libertarians purport to believe in. If ever there was a libertarian document it was the Articles of Confederation. There was no national power. The federal government could not tax. Its laws were not supreme over state laws. It was in fact the hot mess that critics of libertarians believe their dream state would be … and it was recognized as such by the majority of the country and was why the Constitution was ratified. The Articles of Confederation is the true libertarian founding document and this explains the failure of libertarianism.
State-level freedom just didn’t work out well, but what about true freedom? Those who believe in that say they are sovereign citizens – and they might be the ultimate small-government Republicans, taking Reagan’s mantra to its logical conclusion. If big government is bad, well, really, all government is bad. No one should tell free men what to do and what not to do, so they answer to no one. They obey no laws. They’re totally free, except a good number of them are in jail – they don’t pay taxes or stop at stop signs. Everyone else thinks we have laws for a reason. Laws make life a bit easier for everyone, even if they do limit your freedom to drive as fast as you want and own slaves or whatever your thing is – and laws against this or that, and others requiring that you do something are other, have been worked out by the people, collectively.
That still bothers some folks, and they call themselves patriots. True patriots, you see, hate almost everything their government does, because government, in and of itself, restricts our basic freedoms. The odd thing is that is quite true. Governments, even those of the people and by the people and for the people, as Lincoln put it, do create laws. You can’t own slaves anymore. You can’t shoot anyone who vaguely irritates you, except in Florida. You have to wear a seat belt and so on, because governments exist to set boundaries on acceptable behavior, in our system by mutual agreement when we can work that out, and then they make you pay a big chunk of your income to fund the mechanisms used to enforce those behaviors. Everyone has to chip in, and if you love freedom, that’s a problem. If you love freedom you want to edge your government, which, as a patriot, you oddly say you also love, closer and closer to anarchy, but not quite there, and that’s when the correlation between freedom and patriotism breaks down. The one does not cause the other – and that means that rancher who refused to pay the fees for grazing rights on federal lands, and has inspired Fox News and every militia group on America to call him a true patriot, isn’t one. He just loves freedom. That’s a different thing.
Is that too subtle a distinction? Perhaps so, but some things just have to happen, and the folks at Fox News and any number Republican politicians just found out that they should have noted that distinction before they had made the guy a patriotic hero:
Two Republican U.S. senators who voiced support for a Nevada cattleman in his showdown with federal agents over grazing rights on public land condemned the rebellious rancher’s remarks about whether African-Americans would be “better off as slaves.”
A day after Cliven Bundy’s comments about “the Negro” and government subsidies were published in The New York Times, Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky issued a statement saying the rancher’s “remarks on race are offensive and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.”
Paul, regarded as a potential Republican contender for the presidency in 2016, has expressed sympathy for Bundy’s cause and for the resentment that many conservatives in the West harbor towards Washington over government policies they find intrusive.
A spokeswoman for Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican who has called Bundy’s supporters patriots, said her boss “completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy’s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.”
Fox News Channel commentator Sean Hannity, who has been one of Bundy’s most outspoken public supporters, also weighed in on his daily radio show to denounce the rancher’s “ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments.”
In case you missed it, here’s what the guy said:
“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids – and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch – they didn’t have nothing to do. They didn’t have nothing for their kids to do. They didn’t have nothing for their young girls to do.”
“And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “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.”
What? Paul Waldman offers this:
Is anyone surprised that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has become a Fox News hero because of his stand-off with the Bureau of Land Management, turns out to be a stone-cold racist? Not the kind where we might disagree about whether he’s actually a racist, but a lazy-blacks-had-it-better-when-they-were-slaves kind of racist. Conservatives may be wondering how they keep falling in with these kind of people.
That’s a mystery and they should have known better, and some did know better:
It should be said that smart conservatives knew from the beginning that Bundy’s cause was not one they ought to be embracing, and many kept their distance. The fundamental fact of the case is that Bundy was stealing from the federal government. Whether you think the government shouldn’t own so much land in Nevada, or whether you think grazing fees are unfair, you can’t just decide, as Bundy did, that you’ll send your cattle on to government land to graze, and then refuse to pay the fees. That’s what Bundy has been doing for a couple of decades, because, as he said in another interview, “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing.”
Smart conservatives know you don’t take Reagan’s mantra, about how big government is always the problem, to its logical conclusion, deciding that any government will end up being too big. Bundy is only moderately comfortable with his state’s government – Nevada is okay – but really, the only authority he recognizes is his local county sheriff, who’s a personal friend. That Fox News, and particularly Sean Hannity, had made him a hero, as did all those Republican politicians, is kind of nutty, but Waldman sees how that had to happen:
You could say it was reflexive anti-government sentiment; anybody who’s fighting the feds is okay with them. But that’s not really it. As a number of people pointed out, if Cliven Bundy were black, he wouldn’t have become a right-wing hero, with all the loving coverage on Fox News and hundreds of gun-toting government-haters traveling hundreds of miles to brandish their weapons at his side. The reason he was embraced by so many on the right is that he was their kind of people, One of Us. And it shows the perils of identity politics.
That may be so, but Waldman thinks this was more than longing for some dream world where happy darkies pick cotton and sing about those Camptown Races and so on. Yes, more than a few folks quipped that the guy must be an extra from Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles who missed the bus back to Hollywood when they wrapped the location shoots, but Waldman thinks there’s more to it:
Race is a part of identity politics, but not all of it. When conservatives looked at Bundy, they saw not just a white guy, but also a cowboy, and that particular brand of character that waves an American flag while fighting the American government (in his case by stealing public property). And they saw lots of guns, which also told them he was their kind of people. Everything about him told them he was their kind of guy. And I’m sure if liberals had thought about it, they would have said, “I’ll bet this guy has some colorful ideas about race.” Conservatives would have protested that that’s a vicious and unfair stereotype. But in this case it turned out to be true, and how.
One couldn’t help but be reminded of the mini-controversy over “Duck Dynasty” star Phil Robertson back in December, who got in trouble for some comments that were quite similar to Bundy’s. In Robertson’s case, he didn’t reach all the way back to slavery. He just said blacks were happier during the Jim Crow days of his youth: “I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once… they’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’ – not a word! Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.” Sarah Palin admitted that she didn’t even know what Robertson had said even as she was loudly defending him against unfair liberal attacks. Why? Well, because he too was her kind of people – Southern, Christian, gun-loving, liberal-hater. What else do you need to know?
You need to know more, for good reason, and Kevin Drum keeps it simple:
Is anyone on the right surprised by this? (I think it’s safe to say that exactly zero lefties are surprised.) That’s not a rhetorical question on my part. Look: conservatives should never have rallied around Bundy in the first place, but if they’re even minimally self-aware about his particular niche in the conservative base, surely they should have seen something like this coming and kept their distance just out of sheer self-preservation. But apparently they didn’t. They didn’t have a clue that a guy like Bundy was almost certain to backfire on them eventually. They seem to have spent so long furiously denying so much as a shred of racial resentment anywhere in their base that they’ve drunk their own Kool-Aid.
Of course they have – see Bundy Tries to Clarify His Slavery Remarks: ‘I’m Not a Racist’ – which wasn’t that convincing, although he really likes those Hispanic folks – good family people we should welcome here. Fox News is probably in a quandary about that now – the hero they have to dump, because he’s a racist, sees brown as good while black is bad – so it’s not all black and white, even if the word at Fox and with the Republicans is that those good Hispanic family people really don’t deserve to live here. And big government is bad too.
Everyone knows that, although Josh Barro wonders who “everyone” is:
A 2011 National Journal poll found that 42 percent of white respondents agreed with the statement, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Just 17 percent of blacks, 16 percent of Asians and 25 percent of Hispanics agreed. In 2011 and 2012, the Pew Research Center found that 55 percent of Asian-Americans and fully 75 percent of Hispanic-Americans say they prefer a bigger government providing more services over a smaller one providing fewer services, compared with just 41 percent of the general population.
Conservatives often talk about Republican underperformance with minorities in economic terms: Minority voters with lower incomes tend to see themselves as benefiting from government programs. Or they blame the underperformance on loose-cannon Republican politicians who make offensive statements, as with Representative Don Young, of Alaska, talking about “wetbacks” or Representative Steve King, of Iowa, warning that the Dream Act would give citizenship to drug smugglers with “calves the sizes of cantaloupes.”
Those problems are real, but Republicans’ biggest problem with minorities runs even deeper than economic disparities and racist gaffes. Asian-American voters broke nearly 3-to-1 against Mitt Romney in 2012, even though they have higher median family incomes and higher average educational attainment than whites. Economic prosperity alone will not make racial minorities eager for antigovernment language.
That means this had to happen:
In 2012, when I attended the Republican National Convention, there was one phrase I heard over and over again: “You built it!” Republicans thought this was a clever rejoinder to President Obama’s comments that people should be thankful for the role that government plays in individual success. The comeback was not the blockbuster Republicans thought it would be, because America is not the overwhelmingly white country it once was.
Cliven Bundy gets that. Will Republicans?
They might not, as Heather Parton explains:
If there’s one thing I thought all Republicans understood, even the rich ones, was that the vaunted “base” was king. After all, it was their expensive propaganda that created it. Those who financed the conservative movement very carefully nurtured the so-called Silent Majority of white people who didn’t hold with all that pointy-headed multiculturalism or welfare queens and feminazis – the hardscrabble Real Americans of the heartland who loved flag and country. If the big GOP donors have been watching “Mad Men” reruns and think they’re financing a movement of Wall Street traders and Junior League housewives, they’re on the wrong channel. They need to turn on “Duck Dynasty” and get themselves some guns.
Some things are inevitable:
For the past couple of years there has been much rending of garments in the Republican political establishment over the Tea Party dominating the GOP and running it into the ground. But they created the Tea Party out of that original white, working-class bloc by feeding their prejudices and stoking their insecurities. Now their monster is out of control and they don’t know how to lure it back into its cage. But the Tea Party isn’t their only fantasy creature. Perhaps their greatest achievement is the mythic Genius Plutocrat, the Ayn Rand Galtian hero whose courage, intellect and overall superiority in all ways is demonstrated by the singular fact that he has so much money. It looks like that beast has escaped his leash as well and the two grotesque phantasms are destined for a political cage match of epic proportions in 2016…
That won’t be pretty, and Mark Kleiman argues that only one party has this problem:
Yes, human beings divided into feuding factions tend to act less intelligently than those same human beings would in a less polarized context. But all factions are not alike on this crucial dimension. Some track reality – and encourage their followers to track reality – pretty well, some not so well, and some abominably. The Red faction, where the fringe has become the base and where no adult supervision is allowed to interfere with the dissemination of pure lunacy, is radically more detached from reality than the Blue faction. Of course there are Blue lunatics, but they aren’t allowed to dictate the terms of debate. …
Tracking reality maps, albeit imperfectly, into acting with decency: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” It’s not by accident that the party of global-warming denial and poll un-skewing is also the party of torture.
No patriotic American should be pleased that our republic no longer has two political parties either of which can be safely entrusted with the task of governing – but wishing that fact away will not make it disappear. What the republic needs right now is a public awareness of how sick and twisted the Red team actually is, leading a series of devastating electoral defeats for the Republicans sufficient to shock them back into contact with consensus reality.
They’re working on those devastating electoral defeats, because they choose heroes who turn out to be jerks, like the somewhat dim and confused Joe the Plumber and now this Bundy fellow who wishes we allowed slavery again, to increase everyone’s freedom, and the guy who finally took small-government conservatism to its logical conclusion. The polling shows no one else wants to go there with them. We long ago decided government wasn’t the problem, in 1789 in fact – but these folks take a lot of convincing, even if they make heroes of the oddest people. Perhaps that had to happen, as it happens often enough.