Want to know what a dog whistle sounds like?
Republican politicians and talk show hosts have laced up their track shoes in order to get as far from 67-year-old Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s bigoted remarks as possible. Bundy is the man who has been grazing his cattle on federal land for 20 years and hasn’t paid, and owes the government $1.2 million. When federal agents showed up to seize his cattle, they were greeted with a ragtag-armed militia of states rights yahoos. The feds backed off and Bundy, the new right wing media darling, held court with the press expounding on “the Negro.”
He said that when he once drove past a public housing project in North Las Vegas he saw that the doors to the houses were “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? 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.”
The balls it takes for Bundy to say these things are enormous. This is a man who has been grazing his cattle on public lands and not paying for 20 years. We have here a man who is as close to literally feeding at the public trough as anyone! He’s the one that’s been subsidized by the government. This man is a deadbeat wrapped in the Nevada state flag and right wing radio hosts, Fox News and politicians who should’ve known better have been plowing their noses into Cliven Bundy’s hiney ever since he walked onto the national stage for his 15 minutes.
Bundy has lost in every level of court his case has been adjudicated in. He simply says he doesn’t believe the United States government exists so his cattle are grazing on Nevada land.
Then enter the armed yahoos. This armed militia pointed their rifles at federal agents and U.S. politicians actually took the side of those malcontents. The feds pulled back not wanting anyone to get hurt over the impasse. I thought the U.S. government showed great restraint in not unleashing a Reaper drone on the gunmen and blasting them to kingdom come. But I fear they’ve emboldened the states rights whack jobs.
This all comes the same week Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a University of Tennessee College of Law audience that if taxes get too high they should “revolt.” I’m willing to bet that most students thought he meant revolt at the polls or some other acceptable means of protest. I wouldn’t bet on what those armed yahoos who showed up on behalf of Cliven Bundy would think those remarks mean.
But the Rand Pauls and the Sean Hannitys of the political world brought this on themselves. Kevin Williamson of the National Review Online compared Bundy to Gandhi. Perennial Republican loser Alan Keyes compared Bundy’s standoff to Rosa Parks. Former NRA President David Keene and Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt also compared Bundy to Parks. I don’t blame you if you vomit a little in your mouth.
Why back some deadbeat who wants to graze his cattle for free? Why back an armed militia against the U.S. government? They backed him because Bundy’s cause fits the phony narrative they pushed for years. The premise is that President Adolf Obama and his gangster government is illegitimate and is out to steal as much freedom from people as they can in eight years. I’m not saying many conservatives don’t have legitimate complaints about the role of the federal government and the rights of states. But the reason the Fox News love fest for this Nevada rancher was in full swing was because if something is anti-Obama, many Republicans sign on without thinking twice.
Now, just because right wing commentators rushed to defend Bundy’s stand against the government doesn’t mean they share the man’s opinions on “the Negro.” I’m sure they had no idea what this man’s views on race were.
But… and you knew a “but” was coming… Bundy’s depiction of subsidized blacks with nothing to do isn’t a far cry from former Senator Rick Santorum telling an all white audience in Iowa in 2012: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” More than one conservative pundit has claimed the 60’s Great Society programs were more harmful to blacks than slavery. Comparing government programs to slavery is a go to line from the pompous George Will to the ridiculous Ted Nugent.
And Bundy’s image of black adults and children sitting around doing nothing could almost dovetail with Mitt Romney’s 47% that are “dependent on government, who believe that they are victims…” and that Romney would “never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
With Cliven Bundy’s inexperience in negotiating the national stage, he all too easily feels comfortable saying exactly what he thinks without a Frank Luntz filter. Remove the part about picking cotton from his remarks and they come closer to sounding like what other conservative commentators have said, albeit more artfully.
This is where there’s a great divide between most black Americans and conservatives. When conservatives heard Bundy’s remarks they recoil because it sounds obviously racist to them. For something to be “racist” or “bigoted” to them it has to be as overt as Cliven Bundy’s remarks. But for years progressives and blacks have talked about GOP “dog whistles,” phrases that are intended to appeal to prejudices without sounding overtly racist. The only way I can explain it is that when I hear conservatives use code words like “food stamp president,” “states’ rights,” “Barack Hussein Obama,” the 47%, to me it sounds just like Cliven Bundy.