Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Cliven Bundy, the Wild West hero. Or not

By Donna Brazile
updated 11:32 AM EDT, Sat April 26, 2014
Rancher Cliven Bundy, right, leaves the podium with bodyguards after a news conference near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, on Thursday, April 24. Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management have been locked in a dispute for a couple of decades over grazing rights on public lands. Rancher Cliven Bundy, right, leaves the podium with bodyguards after a news conference near his ranch in Bunkerville, Nevada, on Thursday, April 24. Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management have been locked in a dispute for a couple of decades over grazing rights on public lands.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Showdown in Nevada
Photos: Showdown in Nevada
Photos: Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
Showdown in Nevada
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Donna Brazile looks at the furor around Bundy and wonders if Republicans are in denial
  • Bundy has been in a dispute over grazing fees he owes to the federal government
  • Bundy made comments recently saying that blacks were better off as slaves "picking cotton"

Editor's note: Donna Brazile, a CNN contributor and a Democratic strategist, is vice chairwoman for voter registration and participation at the Democratic National Committee. She is a nationally syndicated columnist, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and author of "Cooking With Grease: Stirring the Pots in America." She was manager for the Gore-Lieberman presidential campaign in 2000. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Ah, Cliven Bundy -- poster boy for the anti-government, rugged-individualist crowd. The Marlboro Man for the conservative fantasy world.

Or not.

Cliven Bundy is so bizarre he leaves late night comedians spluttering. (Just check out one of Jon Stewart's riffs.) His comments about race were so embarrassing that Sean Hannity, who had called Bundy "a friend and frequent guest of the show," had to do a "protest too much" denouncement. Yes, Hannity called Bundy's words "beyond repugnant" -- but only after first promoting him as a patriot par excellence.

Republican office-holders, such as Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, who had been cheerleading Bundy and his rabble also had to distance themselves, many of them fumbling with their rhetorical pom-poms in the process.

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile

Here's the basic background: Bundy is a wealthy Nevada rancher who believes he has "beneficial use" claim to grazing lands owned by the federal government. Ownership of the land is not a matter of dispute. Bundy has been in and out of protracted court battles for decades, and he's lost every time.

In 1993, Bundy stopped paying the grazing fees for using federal Bureau of Land Management land. His fees accumulated to $1 million. Finally, after two courts ruled in the bureau's favor, it moved to seize Bundy's cattle, planning to sell them at auction to pay for the 20 years' worth of grazing fees.

On April 5, the bureau brought in armed federal agents and began removing Bundy's cattle. Bundy's son Dave was arrested for refusing to leave. That night, Bundy sent a message: "They have my cattle and now they have one of my boys. Range War begins tomorrow."

Visions of the Wild West, anyone? Frontier justice? Or not.

Bundy's supporters rallied around him, traveling from out of state. That's when the bizarre started. Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff, said, "We're actually strategizing to put all the women up at the front. If they are going to start shooting, it's going to be women that are going to be televised all across the world getting shot by these rogue federal officers."

How's that for a jaw-dropper?

'Be careful before you choose a mascot'
Bodyguard continues Clive Bundy defense
Will Bundy's race remarks hurt GOP?

The standoff lasted a week, until the bureau announced on April 12 that it would return the seized cattle because of its "grave concern about the safety of employees and members of the public."

Conservatives and Republicans cheered.

Well, not all of them.

You see, Bundy based his claim that he did not have to pay the grazing fees because -- well, here are his words: "I believe this is a sovereign state of Nevada. And I abide by all Nevada state laws. But I don't recognize the United States government as even existing."

Or not.

You see, Bundy is violating the Constitution of Nevada, and therefore the state's laws. Article 1, Section 2 of that state's constitution reads, in part: "...the Paramount Allegiance of every citizen is due to the Federal ...and no power exists in the people of this or any other State of the Federal Union to dissolve their connection therewith..."

Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer told Fox News: "This is a man who said that he doesn't recognize the authority of the United States of America. That makes him a patriot? I love this country, I love the Constitution, and it is the Constitution that established a government that all of us have to recognize. And for him to reject it was the beginning of all of this. And now what he said today is just the end of this."

That's the point. We can disagree about policies and politics, and even whether baseball or football is "America's sport." Hopefully we'll again get to a place in our civic discourse where we can be civil and compromise for the common good, to move toward that "more perfect Union" the Constitution mentions.

But denying the very existence of the United States?

Still, that's not what had other Republicans and conservative pontificators going, "oops."

It was Bundy's obscene, racist remarks: "And because they [Blacks] were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? 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."

That's why Republicans are distancing themselves from Bundy.

Because Bundy's words destroy their argument that we shouldn't talk about race. Bundy's remarks, following so closely on the Supreme Court's Schuette decision, refute Chief Justice John Roberts' misguided insistence that "racism will end when we stop helping minorities" and prove Justice Sonia Sotomayor right when she says that the act of ignoring pervasive structural racism is an abdication of judicial responsibility.

Thanks to the federal government and men and women of valor who fought for those words written in our Constitution, we can have this debate.

And it is that same Constitution that gives even a racist idiot like Bundy freedom to spew his lunacy while riding his horse and waving his American flag, even if some Republicans now pretend they've never heard of the guy.

Or not.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
updated 5:52 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Ruben Navarrette notes that this fall, minority students will outnumber white students at America's public schools.
updated 5:21 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Humans have driven to extinction four marine mammal species in modern times. As you read this, we are on the brink of losing the fifth, write three experts.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It's been ten days since Michael Brown was killed, and his family is still waiting for information from investigators about what happened to their young man, writes Mel Robbins
updated 10:11 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Sally Kohn says the Ferguson protests reflect broader patterns of racial injustice across the country, from chronic police violence and abuse against black men to the persistent economic and social exclusion of communities of color.
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 1:38 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT