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Beware the Heroes You Cast

April 25th, 2014

Any statement that begins with the words, “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” is not likely to end well.

Fox News and many on the conservative side have made a homespun hero out of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who says that the United States does not exist—even as he rides around on a horse carrying the flag of the United States. He says that he will follow every law that Nevada has, but none of the federal government—despite the fact that one of Nevada’s highest laws says that federal laws must be followed. This is a man whose claim to fame is essentially that he’s a thief. For twenty years, he has been raiding resources which do not belong to him. Now that the owners, having been relatively gentle and patient, are asserting their ownership, Bundy has decided to use the threat of violence to solve his problems.

Now, one can understand the siren call of this story for the conservatives. As I pointed out before, it has so many seductive elements: the scrappy, defiant rancher with his ragtag team of compatriots fighting the feds all by their lonesome, the government denying use of land to protect an endangered species, and the allure of a Waco-style conflagration which could amount to a spectacular PR nightmare for the Obama administration. You can almost hear the right wing getting sexually aroused.

Now, the points I mentioned above—essentially, this is a guy who doesn’t bother to know things or to think too hard before he speaks—should have been kind of a warning sign to conservatives that they had a potential embarrassment on their hands. But then, this is the same crowd that not only nominated Sarah Palin, but actually loved her for saying stuff that amounts to “I’m a foreign policy expert because you can see Russian wastelands from the far reaches of my state.” Clearly, the general weight of the conservative movement is not exactly sharp as tacks. Or, to be more fair, they are far more about message than they are about fact or reason.

Nevertheless, you would think that there might have been something of a reassessment in conservative circles when a Bundy supporter revealed that they planned to put women at the forefront of their group as they drew fire from federal forces so that the nation would see women shot to death on national TV, and that would be swell for cattle grazing.

But no, conservatives still figured that this was a good movement to latch onto. After Sarah Palin, Rick Santorum, Herman Cain, and Joe the Plumber, people like Rand Paul figured that they’d found someone who would help their cause just as much. And they were right.

So, are you ready to hear what their new hero wants to say?

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 never learned to pick cotton, and perhaps would be better off as slaves.

Now, I am aware that he was not actually suggesting that these people be sold back into slavery (at least I think he was not trying to say that), but instead was criticizing government subsidy. However, his wording could hardly have been less, shall we say, eloquent. When using the word “Negro” is the least offensive thing you said, you know that you’ve just made a fairly significant gaffe.

I mean, he’s making about a half dozen incredibly offensive innuendoes in rapid-fire succession. There were lots of kids, despite the fact that they get so many abortions—because these people just do nothing but have wantonly irresponsible sex all day long, don’t they? And their old people and kids can be seen lounging around; shouldn’t they all be working or something? Especially the “young girls”—good lord, I do not even want to speculate as to what he meant by that. Although perhaps he meant that the young girls should be lined up to be shot by armed federal agents or something. You know, because it’s a great visual.

Pile that on top of the irony that his entire cause is about demanding as his natural entitlement a far greater subsidy than any of these people he imagines are living the easy life… well, it’s all pretty breathtaking.

Sarah Palin, stand aside… allow a master to show you how it’s done. Er, not that I mean anything by “master.”

Rand Paul was quick to disown Bundy. Rick Perry is now calling Bundy a “side story” and the real issue is land management. And for some unknown reason, Fox News seems to have suddenly gone silent about the scrappy rancher. Cannot for the life of me imagine why that could be.

As the conservatives who for days gleefully made Bundy their poster boy now scramble for cover, you have to wonder how long it will be before they again forget to think carefully about who they choose to hold up as a hero for their cause. Because it will happen again. It’s not like Bundy was all that hard to see coming. And they still like Sarah Palin.

  1. Luis
    April 25th, 2014 at 10:15 | #1

    Fox News’ eventual coverage of this is interesting. First, on their main page, the story is kind of buried in the minor listings.

    The article itself is clearly slanted, but eventually gets around to telling the story. How an article is constructed is key: what’s the lede, what impression do you get from the headline and from the first few grafs (especially considering the audience), what information is left in and left out, what is buried, and what spin is put on it.

    In this case, the headline: “Cliven Bundy under fire for racial comments.” This casts the impression of action on outsiders, on those attacking him. Consider other mainstream headlines: “Rancher’s Views on Race Send Supporters Fleeing,” “Nevada Rancher Cliven Bundy Doesn’t Apologize, Repeats Racist Remarks,” “Rancher Loses Supporters Over Slavery Remarks,” and more–all emphasize Bundy himself, which is the rather proper cast. Not Fox: they focus on how Bundy is being criticized. And they call the comments “racial,” not “racist.”

    The first words of the article are, “The New York Times reported…”; accurate, but mention of the NYT will immediately garner suspicion of bias, and again casts the idea of action off of Bundy and on to an organization not trusted by the readers. Next, it mentions that Bundy “made some inflammatory comments on race to a group of supporters” and now is “taking heat.”

    The next graf gives a sample of his statement, but does repeat the entirety of his statement–only the part relevant to slavery–everyone will have heard of this, so it’s necessary to cover it. But note that the part reported here lacks some of the more offensive elements. Which is where we come to what is left out: nowhere in the article does the word “Negro” appear. Missing is the comment about “young girls.” The grammatically unsound sentences are also not shown.

    And the very next graf? It begins with: “The full video, posted by liberal media advocacy group Media Matters, is here.” There’s no reason to focus on Media Matters, they were not the first to post the video (see a longer, earlier version published by The Blaze), but it lets them blame it further on the “liberal media.”

    The article ends correctly enough, but also in a self-exculpatory fashion:

    The problem with turning ordinary people into champions of a cause is that there’s often little time for background research on the person being spotlighted. There’s a lesson here: politicians have to be careful who they saddle up to.

  2. Troy
    April 25th, 2014 at 15:12 | #2

    Capital is that which works for us.

    Bundy has his inherited 160 acre farm, plus the grazing rights, taking from the commons.

    Urban people do not have access to this latter capital wealth of the commons, and if they did conservatives would call this “communism”.

    And the former, the 160 acre spread, is also problematic, since, historically, all the good productive land was parceled out before blacks could get any of it.

    This resulted in share-cropping, not much of a step up from slavery (the Irish had a bitter experience of working for absentee landlords in the early 19th century too)

    Conservatives say slavery was 150 years ago and thus does not have any impact today, but history is a contingent thing. On average, who you are is dependent on who your parents are, especially in a dysfunctional economy as our own, where the rich own so much, and exact so many rents on the poor.

  3. Troy
    April 25th, 2014 at 15:15 | #3

    heh, I saw Bundy coming a mile away:


  4. Tim
    April 29th, 2014 at 00:20 | #4

    Not to many statements start off well with “let me tell you one more thing about the negro” will end good, but I got a feeling that a million and one jokes will as comics begin “teaing” off on conservatives and the republican party.

    This week, many people might not realize it, but finally might be where the tide turns on the reactionary conservative movement. The going whole hog cliven left conservatives with extraordinary hate egg on their faces. But also, more and more people, including southerners and conservatives are realizing that Obamacare is not a political boondoggle or stunt but a public policy that puts real health insurance at affordable prices withing their grasps, many for the first time, many others sitting on the employment bubble, and almost all people are desperate to have it. In this era of the overwhelmingly shrinking middle class tide, obamacare for many is the only reverse current.

    That information is also getting thrown on top of the Piketty book, the Princeton Oligopoly paper, and the “we’re no longer the leading middle class nation” stuff. Gay issues are gone for the Republicans. Womens, immigrants and minorities are for the Democratic party, and now a shift near the Republican core. Should have happened long ago.

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