Cliven Bundy’s slippery slope from demigod to dope

    The deafening din you just heard was the rumble of right-wingers stampeding far far away from Cliven Bundy.

    How entertaining it was yesterday, to hear them sputter in utter shock at the realization that their anti-government demigod was in truth just a racist dope. They really do need to start picking better heroes. Turns out, Bundy was merely this year’s Joe the Plumber.

    For a few blissful weeks, the deadbeat rancher had seemed to be the ultimate right-wing icon. Refusing to pay two decades’ worth of required federal grazing fees, defying the authority of federal courts, marinating in the make-believe of his own mind (“I don’t even recognize the United States government as even existing”)…what more could they possibly ask for? This liberty lovin’ registered Republican, with his gun-totin’ Marlboro Man sidekicks, seemed to have sprung from their deepest fever dreams.

    Until….”I want to tell you one more thing about the Negro.”

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    Uh oh. You just knew this wasn’t going to end well.

    He was talking to The New York Times, and it was captured on video. While visiting Las Vegas, Bundy had seen “the Negro” sitting around outside a “government house,” and it prompted him to wonder why those shiftless folk didn’t know how to work. And eureka, he knew the answer. It was “because they never learned how to pick cotton.”

    But he was just warming up: “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?”

    Gee, that’s a tough one: Is it better to be a free person with help from the U.S. government – or is it better to be whipped and chained as a piece of property, as decreed by the Confederate government?

    Here’s another tough one: Did slaves really enjoy “having a family life” (as Bundy contends) – or were slave families routinely torn apart by their white overseers, the children and spouses sold in separate transactions and sent to disparate far-flung destinations?

    Well. This is what happens when you don’t vet your instant heroes, and they turn out to be dumber than a pile of rocks. It’s reminiscent of what happened in 2008 when John McCain latched onto a random Ohioan nicknamed Joe the Plumber, and treated him as the font of wisdom.

    Turned out, Joe the Plumber (real name, Samuel Wurzelbacher) wasn’t a licensed plumber, and didn’t have the remotest clue about anything. And long after the campaign, Wurzelbacher kept exposing his id. He said that Americans should combat illegal immigration by “going to Mexico and start shooting.” He said that liberals and Occupy activists were the same as “Communist/Marxist.” On his website, he posted and endorsed an article that began, “Admit it. You want a white Republican president again.” Indeed, “wanting a white Republican president…just makes you American.”

    Conservatives don’t invoke Joe the Plumber much anymore, and, sure enough, those who avidly bowed at the Bundy altar are already in full flight.

    Sean Hannity, who until late yesterday was seemingly poised to polish the guy’s boots, now declares that “his comments are beyond repugnant to me, they are beyond despicable to me.” Sen. Rand Paul, a Bundy champ, now says that “his remarks on race are offensive, and I wholeheartedly disagree with him.” Sen. Dean Heller, who had called Bundy a “patriot,” is now condemning his “appalling and racist statements.” Sen. Ted Cruz, who had hailed Bundy’s fight against alleged government overreach (which naturally he’d blamed on Obama), now says that Bundy’s remarks “are completely unacceptable.” And so on.

    Meanwhile, Bundy was still talking yesterday, apparently unaware that his Andy Warholian 15 minutes of fame are almost up. He said again that blacks were surely “happier” as slaves picking cotton, “when they was in the South in front of their homes with their chickens and their gardens and their children around them and their men having something to do.” We need not lower ourselves to critique that one.

    It’d be unfair to imply that all conservatives think like Bundy. They do not. But it’s an inescapable fact that Bundyites are numerous in the conservative ranks. Their anti-government hostility is merely more extreme than the conservative norm. Their repugnant racism is entwined with their anti-government hostility, on the same continuum.

    Conservative politicians and infauxtainment hosts, if only for the sake of their own credibility, should be far more vigilant about whom they annoint as heroes. Hannity seems to have learned this lesson (until he forgets it). He whined yesterday that people like him, “who saw this case as government overeach, now are branded because of the ignorant, racist, despicable comments of Cliven Bundy.”

    That’s right, pal. You did it to yourself.

    To quote an old saying: If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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