Bundy’s Racial Rhetoric

by Kevin D. Williamson

Cliven Bundy’s racial rhetoric is indefensible, and it has inspired a lot of half-bright commentary from the left today directed at your favorite correspondent, mostly variations on this theme: Don’t you feel stupid for having compared him to Mohandas Gandhi?

Short version: No. There is a time to break the law, and the fact that the law is against you does not mean that justice is against you. The law was against Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., too. That does not mean that what is transpiring in Nevada is the American Revolution or the civil-rights movement; it means that there is a time to break the law. As I wrote, “Cliven Bundy may very well be a nut job, but one thing is for sure: The federal government wouldn’t treat a tortoise the way it has treated him.”

Critics on the left, being an ignorant bunch, may be unaware of the fact, but the example of Mohandas Gandhi is here particularly apt, given that the great man had some pretty creepy ideas about everything from race to homosexuality, for example writing that blacks aspired to nothing more than passing their time in “indolence and nakedness,” objecting to blacks’ being housed in Indian neighborhoods, etc. Americans, many of whom seem to believe that Mr. Gandhi’s first name was “Mahatma,” generally confuse the Indian historical figure, a man whose biography contains some complexity, with the relatively straightforward character from the Richard Attenborough movie. We remember Gandhi and admire him because he was right about the thing most closely associated with him. In the same way, there is more to the life of Thomas Jefferson than his having been a slave owner. The question of standing in opposition to a domineering federal government that acts as the absentee landlord for nine-tenths of the state of Nevada is only incidentally related to Cliven Bundy’s having backward views about race. Mr. Bundy’s remarks reflect poorly on the man, not on the issue with which the man is associated.

As I told Talking Points Memo this morning, I am sure that the men who died at the Alamo by and large did not share my own views on the social status of blacks, homosexuals, or women. Martin Luther King Jr. had some pretty backward ideas about social organization and the treatment of women. Franklin Roosevelt’s record on race was not very good at all. Yes, that was all long ago. But the Democratic party maintained a Klansman in the U.S. Senate until four years ago. The same people who will spend the next couple of days explaining that Nevada is and has always been about racism were studying their navels with great interest when Robert Byrd was engaged in loose talk about “white n—–s” not at some point in ancient history but just a few years ago. 

Those who are scandalized by the presence of firearms among the rebels in Nevada would do well to reconsider the career of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau was one of the inspirations for Gandhi’s nonviolent noncooperation, but he was also the author of “A Plea for Captain John Brown.” John Brown, as you may know, was a practitioner of a rather different form of noncooperation. Thoreau writes: “Not to mention his other successes, was it a failure, or did it show a want of good management, to deliver from bondage a dozen human beings, and walk off with them by broad daylight, for weeks if not months, at a leisurely pace, through one State after another, for half the length of the North, conspicuous to all parties, with a price set upon his head, going into a court-room on his way and telling what he had done, thus convincing Missouri that it was not profitable to try to hold slaves in his neighborhood? — and this, not because the government menials were lenient, but because they were afraid of him.”

And that, of course, is what this ultimately is all about.

Because our political discourse is conducted at the lowest possible intellectual level, expect to hear me, Sean Hannity, and everybody else who has encouraged Mr. Bundy in his confrontation with the federal authorities to be denounced as a racist. I’ve been here before: Criticize the IRS for its abuse of power? Martin Bashir says you’re a racist. Note that Barack Obama went to Harvard? Jonathan Capehart says you’re a racist. Etc. Bill Clinton bestows the nation’s highest civilian honor on a noted and fairly nasty segregationist?  Barack Obama sits for years upon years listening to racist harangues in his church?  Uh . . . When it is convenient for the Left to ignore racial nastiness, it does so. That’s why Al Sharpton has a show on MSNBC, which also indulged Melissa Harris-Perry’s grotesquely racist remarks about adoption. When it is convenient to ignore something else, then racial nastiness is the only subject of conversation. This is going to be one of those times — never mind the other issues in question here.

There’s no explaining away Mr. Bundy’s remarks, and I abhor them, and am pleased  that Rich Lowry and others have taken the time to address them.

There’s no explaining away the lawlessness of the Obama administration or the crimes of the IRS, either. A nation can survive its cranks, but not a criminal government.

A final thought from my piece in the current print edition of NR: “Mr. Bundy is no doubt breaking the law, just as those lawless veterans were when they disregarded President Obama’s theatrical barricades during the government shutdown. No good society can afford to make Mr. Bundy’s example the general rule, but somewhere between his ranch in Nevada and the North Bridge in Concord is the place at which we say, ‘Enough.’ The terror of that is in the fact that every Timothy McVeigh thinks himself a Paul Revere — but still there are Paul Reveres, and times for Paul Reveres. A little sedition from time to time is like fireworks on the Fourth of July: inspiring, illuminating, and — do not forget it — dangerous.”