the national interest

Libertarian Hero Cliven Bundy Shockingly Turns Out to Be Gigantic Racist

Rancher Cliven Bundy poses for a photo outside his ranch house on April 11, 2014 west of Mesquite, Nevada. Bureau of Land Management officials are rounding up Cliven Bundy's cattle, he has been locked in a dispute with the BLM for a couple of decades over grazing rights.
Freedom equals slavery. Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

According to J.D. Tuccille of the libertarian magazine Reason, the Cliven Bundy standoff is about something larger and grander than mere grazing rights. It is about freedom-loving individuals fighting back against distant, bureaucratic government. “They see little reason,” he writes, “to leave their fate in the hands of a stumbling federal government that can’t balance its books.”

Now Cliven Bundy, the deadbeat rancher embraced by Rand Paul and other freedom lovers, has added some thoughts of his own. In an interview with the New York Times, Bundy — introducing the topic with the brace-yourself-for-awkwardness segue “I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro” — expounds:

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.

So apparently there’s more to Bundy’s cause than the existence of the federal budget deficit. Or, at least, his views on land rights and individual freedom come attached to a large side order of racism.

As it happens, just the other day, Tuccille expressed outrage over something I wrote. In a longer argument about the future of American politics, I suggested that conservatism in its current incarnation has no future in American politics because “America’s unique brand of ideological anti-statism is historically inseparable … from the legacy of slavery,” and thus will have little natural appeal to an increasingly diverse electorate. Tuccille shot back, “It’s tempting to say ‘what the fuck?’ and take Chait’s argument as an exercise in self-congratulatory lunacy.”

To his credit, Tuccille then went back and read my magazine story about racial politics in the Obama era, which tries to untangle the fraught relationship between racism and ideology. To his discredit, Tuccille summarized my point as follows: “No need for debate, it’s all about internalized racism.” This is the precise opposite of my argument, which held that while conservatism and racism may be historically, sociologically, and psychologically inseparable, it is absolutely necessary to debate conservative ideas on their own terms. (Self-quote: “And yet — as vital as this revelation may be for understanding conservatism, it still should not be used to dismiss the beliefs of individual conservatives. Individual arguments need and deserve to be assessed on their own terms, not as the visible tip of a submerged agenda; ideas can’t be defined solely by their past associations and uses.” Seriously, somebody tell me how I could have made this point more explicitly.)

Most of the outrage against my argument came from the left, who objected to the “you need to argue with conservative ideas on their own terms” part, but Tuccille helped stoke some belated outrage on the right at the “yes, American conservatism is deeply intertwined with racism” part. In that spirit, I would absolutely concede that, while I find Bundy’s case completely unsympathetic, it is 100 percent possible to agree with his views on grazing rights without being racist.

Where we differ is that, I’d argue, it’s not exactly a coincidence that Bundy also turns out to be a gigantic racist. Just like Ron Paul’s longtime ghostwriter turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. And like the way Rand Paul’s ghostwriter also turned out to be a neoconfederate white supremacist. Presumably all these revelations have struck Tuccille as a series of shocking coincidences. Why do all these people with strong antipathy toward the federal government turn out to be racists? Why do all these homosexuals keep sucking my cock?

Cliven Bundy Shockingly Turns Out to Be Racist