Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy is buzzing through his proverbial 15 minutes of fame, following his standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. Looks like he just hit 14:59:59 on the fame clock, and we’re heading into Infamy Overtime. The following passage comes from a profile on Bundy at the New York Times, where I would imagine champagne corks are currently thudding into the drop ceilings over the editorial conference room:
But if the federal government has moved on, Mr. Bundy ??? a father of 14 and a registered Republican ??? has not.
He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.
???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.???
It was a matter of microseconds before the press got busy Akinizing every politician who ever had a word of criticism for the BLM during the Bundy standoff… or even if they criticized the BLM over an entirely different dispute in a different state:
A spokesman for [Senator Rand] Paul, informed of Mr. Bundy???s remarks, said the senator was not available for immediate comment. Chandler Smith, a spokesman for [Nevada Senator Dean] Heller, said that the senator ???completely disagrees with Mr. Bundy???s appalling and racist statements, and condemns them in the most strenuous way.??? A spokeswoman for [Texas Attorney General Greg] Abbott, Laura Bean, said that the letter he wrote ???was regarding a dispute in Texas and is in no way related to the dispute in Nevada.???
Akinization – the process of smearing every Republican with the words of any other GOP politician, or apparently even private citizens with high media profiles, named in honor of dumbass 2012 Senate candidate Todd Akin – has become a weapon of mass destruction. The shock waves from an Akin strike in Nevada can hit a guy in Texas.
Of course, this process is never, ever employed against Democrats, who are not required to denounce even the most offensive members of their caucus, no matter what they say or do. Why, a passel of Democrat politicians can get arrested by FBI in a matter of days, and not a single other member of the party will ever be asked if their caucus seems to have a corruption problem. No gun-control enthusiast will ever have to deal with a leading gun-control advocate’s arrest for participating in a terrorist-linked gun smuggling operation. We all know how this game is played.
Leaving aside these one-sided political games, what do Cliven Bundy’s thoughts on slavery, or anything else, have to do with the incident that boosted him into the public eye? The story was never really about him; it’s about what the Bureau of Land Management did. Many critics of the BLM had little use for Bundy’s theories about whether the federal government has any jurisdiction over Nevada land. Some thought the incident provided a good opportunity to ask why the federal government owns 87 percent of Nevada, and how it’s been treating people with the right political connections differently. None of those issues depend, in any way, on whether or not Cliven Bundy is a nice guy.
If we accept the premise that the rights and privileges of citizens depend on political correctness – it becomes OK for the federal government to use stormtrooper tactics against someone, if the majority of Americans conclude he’s a jerk – we’ve embraced a core tenet of totalitarianism. The law becomes different for people who say the “wrong” things. If you agree with an outcast about something, you become an outcast. (If I might make a small digression, this is also why it’s wrong to disregard certain laws if you think the violators are super-nice people who really love their families.)
Conversely, if you thought Bundy was all wet before, he’s not any wetter because he thinks slavery had its virtues. You can denounce him all day on the latter point without modifying your position on entirely unconnected issues. To argue otherwise is to once again embrace totalitarianism, in which all-encompassing political agendas are either embraced in full, or opposed with ferocity. Everyone is either a hero or a goat, either absolutely right or completely wrong.
This is also a lesson in the perils of sensation-hungry instant-celebrity culture, in which Cliven Bundy got the idea that the world needed to hear his Really Deep Thoughts on a wide variety of issues. Of course he believes that. How many other shake-and-bake celebrities has he seen, holding forth on ideas that have nothing to do with the reason they became famous? One of the important differences between Republican and Democrat political operations is that the latter are much better at spotting these flash-bulb moments of celebrity, taking charge of them, and either coaching them to avoid saying embarrassing things… or quickly ushering them away from the cameras before they do.
Pro tip number 1: when your “news conferences” draw one reporter and one photographer, it’s time to stop holding news conferences. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Cliven Bundy’s next conference is much better attended, by reporters who ask questions about all sorts of hot-button issues, looking for answers they can pin to prominent Republicans they don’t like.
Pro tip number 2: If your line of thought leads you to compare anything that is not slavery to slavery, it’s time to stop flapping your gums, take a deep breath, and try again. This is useful advice for everyone across the political spectrum. For example, a good way to reduce carbon emissions would be for climate-change fanatics to shut their pie-holes when they feel the urge to compare global-warming skeptics to slavers.