Cliven Bundy, you may know, is the Nevada rancher who is fighting the federal Bureau of Land Management over grazing rights for his cattle.
Some politicians and pundits, most on the right, gleefully seized on the dispute as an opportunity to bash the BLM’s heavy-handed response. A few like-minded and well-armed people showed up to support him, precipitating a dangerous standoff with officials that, thankfully, ended with no one getting hurt. Fox News in particular had a field day with the spectacle, which no doubt helped their ratings for a few days.
Until, that is, Cliven Bundy made a couple of truly stupid racist statements, leaving his erstwhile supporters running for cover, and giving Fox and the rest of the media one last blast of ratings before deciding they had better things for their talking heads to talk about (but the video of Bundy on horseback carrying a big American flag was cool — so John Wayne-ish).
Well, as with most things, the devil is in the details. What you may not know is that this is a dispute that goes back more than 20 years, that Bundy claims the federal government doesn’t own the land he’s been using, that he doesn’t recognize the authority of the BLM, that he’s lost every time in every state and federal court that’s heard the case, that he owes more than $1 million in back rent, fees, penalties and fines, that the BLM only acted to remove his cattle after more than a decade of frustration at his antics and several court orders, and the reason they came armed is that they had good reason to think that Bundy and his supporters would be armed.
In other words, Bundy is an anti-government wingnut who thinks he can do as he damned well pleases as long as he doesn’t (in his own mind, at least) hurt anyone else, and nobody but nobody has any right to tell him otherwise.
Which is why, in a nutshell, Cliven Bundy in no conservative. He’s not even a radical conservative. It’s not even proper to call him a right-winger. He’s just a dangerous (and possibly deranged) nut with a gun, and riding a horse into the sunset while carrying an American flag doesn’t change that.
If he ascribes to any political philosophy at all (which I doubt — probably scoffs at the idea) he could be considered a libertarian who dangerously misunderstands libertarianism. People like Cliven Bundy are to the right what The Weathermen of 1960s infamy are to the left — an embarrassment that occasionally manages to blow itself up and hurt others in the process. The Cliven Bundys of the world give legitimate political movements a bad name.
To be skeptical of government — the conservative position — is not to be anti-government. To support limits on government — also the conservative position — is not to claim that anything more than defending the homeland is illegitimate. To argue that this or that program of the welfare state is ill-advised and/or counterproductive — as is so often done by conservatives — does not justify ignoring the law. Even to argue that something is unconstitutional does not, in any way, shape, form or fashion, call for or justify armed resistance.
Life simply isn’t like that, and conservatism is a political philosophy built on a profound respect for the way life really is, with all its imperfection, ambiguity and conflict between decent, well-meaning people. Not the way we’d like it, with distinct edges, and yes/no simplicity and clarity, and reason always triumphing over emotion.
Conservatism is organic in nature, in the sense that life always finds a way in spite of the obstacles; avoiding them if possible, going around them if not, even incorporating them when practical, but always acknowledging and never ignoring them.
People like Cliven Bundy refuse to recognize the real nature of the world and insist on forcing it to conform to their notions — even when their notions are crankish, crackpot, or, as in the case of a Stalin or Mao or Hitler, insane.
It’s possible to make a cogent, responsible argument that the federal government shouldn’t own more than 80 percent of Nevada, and the people of that state and nation would be better-served if the land was in private hands. As a matter of fact, conservatives and libertarians often do. But the fact remains that the federal government does own the land, and that can’t be ignored, not in a civilized nation where the rule of law is a bedrock principle. The proper place to argue the case is in the court of public opinion, and to settle it, the Congress; not at barricades with guns blazing.
So, a plague on Cliven Bundy and his kind. They are a threat to the nation, and should be treated as such.
Kenneth D. Gough of Elizabethton is president and general manager of Accurate Machine Products Corp. in Johnson City.