Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Conservative hero is racist rancher? Didn't see that one coming

By Paul Begala
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Fri April 25, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Paul Begala wonders why Republicans who championed Cliven Bundy were surprised
  • A few Republicans initially rallied around Bundy in dispute over land
  • Bundy wondered this week of blacks, "Are they better off as slaves, picking cotton?"
  • Bundy told CNN, "I don't think I'm wrong. ... I think I'm right"

Editor's note: Paul Begala, a Democratic strategist and CNN political commentator, was a political consultant for Bill Clinton's presidential campaign in 1992 and was counselor to Clinton in the White House. He is a consultant to the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Well, that escalated quickly.

In fairness to my conservative friends, there's noooooo way they could have ever known that their newest hero, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy, would let loose a racist rant. It was unimaginable, crazy. Who'd have thought?

Sure, he refused to recognize the legitimacy of the federal government, also known as the United States of America. But so did the secessionists of Lincoln's time, and they weren't racists. No, not at all.

Paul Begala
Paul Begala

They just believed that some people should own other people and that the determining factor in deciding whether you were master or slave was the color of your skin.

Besides, by what right does the federal gubmint own that land in Nevada? Other than the fact that the federal government bought it and paid for it in 1848. (See the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.) That doesn't mean it's "theirs" or anything, does it?

Bundy said of blacks, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro. 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, he defended his remarks. "I don't think I'm wrong," Bundy told CNN's Bill Weir. "I think I'm right."

So who can blame poor Sean Hannity for looking like a right-wing blockhead for promoting the cause of a guy who turned around and said crazy, racist things? Well, I can.

Let me tell Sean about the Racist: The Racist hates federal subsidies. Not the subsidies that provide grassland to Nevada ranchers at below-market values. Nor the subsidies that bring water to the desert by, say, building Hoover Dam. Nor the subsidies that benefit mining operations in the Silver State. No, the Racist hates subsidies that sap the human soul: like food stamps for moms with hungry children. Especially if those moms happen to be, well, differently pigmented from him.

Cliven Bundy: I'm not a racist

Politicians denounce Bundy's racist remarks

Bodyguard would take bullet for Bundy
Cliven Bundy: Life in the media
Bundy: Fox News misunderstood me

That's what's so interesting, not about this racist moron but about the Republicans who supported him until he revealed his views on slavery.

Bundy was plainly a nutcase, and the right-wing pundits and politicians should have seen that. He should never have been portrayed as a hero or a victim or anything other than a lawbreaker, a freeloader, a moocher. A taker.

For two decades, he grazed his cattle on land that did not belong to him and refused to pay the landowner. Right-wingers, one would think, would hate that. He refused to respect law enforcement, in fact threatened to take up arms against the peace officers whom Republicans usually trip over themselves to honor. I thought conservatives believed in law and order.

What if, instead of being a right-wing rancher who flouted the law, Bundy was the leader of a left-wing group of college radicals who occupied a government building? Ronald Reagan notoriously said of Berkeley protestors, "If there is to be a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement!"

Or what if Bundy had been the leader of the New Black Panther Party? What if he and his followers had, for 20 years, brazenly stolen from the federal government, refused to obey court orders and threatened police with guns? Would Hannity have been duped into defending him? Fat chance.

Or, umm, what if Bundy had been a Muslim, declaring a tiny caliphate on that dusty piece of Nevada? Does anyone really think Fox News would have made a hero of him then?

Cliven Bundy: Another conservative folk hero exposes racial nerve

Bundy's status as a deadbeat welfare queen should have been sufficient for the likes of Hannity to know better than to support him. His threats of violence against American law enforcement personnel should have had Hannity up in arms.

Instead, the right-wing noise machine once more looks like a bunch of dupes and dopes, blindsided when their newest hero turns out to be a racist. It won't be the last time this happens.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT