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 8:27 PM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
The ability to manipulate media and technology has increasingly become a critical strategic resource, says Jeff Yang.
updated 11:17 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Today's politicians should follow Ronald Reagan's advice and invest in science, research and development, Fareed Zakaria says.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Artificial intelligence does not need to be malevolent to be catastrophically dangerous to humanity, writes Greg Scoblete.
updated 10:05 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Historian Douglas Brinkley says a showing of Sony's film in Austin helped keep the city weird -- and spotlighted the heroes who stood up for free expression
updated 8:03 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
Tanya Odom that by calling only on women at his press conference, the President made clear why women and people of color should be more visible in boardrooms and conferences
updated 8:12 AM EST, Fri December 26, 2014
When oil spills happen, researchers are faced with the difficult choice of whether to use chemical dispersants, authors say
updated 1:33 AM EST, Thu December 25, 2014
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
updated 6:12 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
updated 8:36 AM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
updated 2:14 PM EST, Wed December 24, 2014
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
updated 3:27 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
updated 10:35 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
updated 7:57 AM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
updated 11:29 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
updated 4:15 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
updated 1:11 PM EST, Tue December 23, 2014
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
updated 1:08 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
updated 1:53 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
updated 3:19 PM EST, Sat December 20, 2014
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
updated 5:39 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
updated 8:12 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
updated 12:09 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
updated 6:45 PM EST, Thu December 18, 2014
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
updated 4:34 PM EST, Fri December 19, 2014
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT