Friday, August 1, 2014

Cliven Bundy also had some surprising thoughts on “the Spanish people”

David Becker/Getty

The Washington Post obtained more video of Cliven Bundy's now-infamous remarks. Perhaps the most surprising part, given the retrograde tenor of Bundy's views on African-Americans, is his riff on "the Spanish people":

Now let me talk about the Spanish people. Now I understand that they come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders. But they're here, and they're people. And I've worked beside a lot of them. Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people. When you see those Mexican families, they're together, they picnic together, they're spending their time together. And I'll tell you, in my way of thinking, they're awful nice people. And we need to have those people going to be with us.

With that passage in mind, reread Bundy's remarks on "the Negro" one more time:

"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."

On Thursday, conservatives lined up to condemn Cliven Bundy. Senator Rand Paul called his remarks "offensive." Senator Dean Heller's office called them "appalling." Nevada Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, who'd emerged as one of Bundy's most committed defenders, said, "I strongly disagree with Cliven Bundy's comments about slavery."

The precision of Fior's statement is admirable — and telling. It really is Bundy's remarks about slavery that conservatives disagree with. But the broader theory behind Bundy's statement is uncontroversial. In fact, it places Bundy firmly within the modernizing wing of the Republican Party. He's a Paul Ryan Republican who speaks like a Strom Thurmond Republican.

Bundy's theory, basically, is that government handouts have lulled African-Americans into a fatal dependency. He thinks the damage is evident in the dissolution of black families and the waning of their work ethic. That's what Bundy means when he says that, post-slavery, African Americans got "less freedom." In this case, freedom is a stand-in, as it occasionally is in conservative rhetoric, not for liberty, but for basically all American values. Being a free American means working hard and taking care of your children and making something of yourself.

In that way, Hispanics — or, as Bundy calls them, "the Spanish people" — are more American than many Americans. They may not have the right papers. But they have the right values. They work hard and they care for their kids. They have picnics. They should be Republicans.

Rip out Bundy's comments about slavery and his Dixie rhetoric and Bundy fits comfortably with the more reformist wing of the Republican Party. Take House Budget Chair Paul Ryan. His theory of African-American poverty is essentially identical to Bundy's, minus the nutty bits about slavery:

We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.

At the same time, Ryan is one of his party's most committed proponents of immigration reform, in part because he sees Hispanics as natural Republicans if only the friction over immigration reform could be overcome.

Bundy is, like Ryan, a big-tent Republican, who believes that the main problem facing African Americans is the cultural devastation wrought by government handouts and the main problem facing the Republican Party is a bizarre resistance to making common cause with Hispanics.

The irony of all this, as Matt Yglesias pointed out, is that Bundy is a glittering example of the entitlement that government handouts can nurture. He's a rancher whose cattle graze on federally subsidized land and he refuses to even pay the discounted price.

Ranchers like Bundy who graze their animals on federally owned land are moochers, pure and simple. According to the Congressional Research Service, Bureau of Land Management fees for federal lands are drastically lower than fees charged by private landowners - $1.35 per animal month-unit (AUM) versus an $8-$23 fee on private land. What's more, the federal agencies who administer this grazing land "typically spend far more managing their grazing programs than they collect in grazing fees." The net result is that federal grazing programs are an enormous giveaway to ranchers that carries both direct and opportunity costs for the rest of us.

Bundy spent decades defying the law and ultimately joined with an armed militia to defend his right to have his cattle graze for free on land that taxpayers pay to maintain. "We were actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front," said former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack, a Bundy ally. "If they are going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers."

So Bundy is a guy who got so attached to a government handout that he joined with a militia against the federal government and, if Mack is to be believed, thought about using women as human shields in order to gain a PR advantage. So in a way, he really has proven the point that a lifelong dependence on government handouts can lead people to very dark places.

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