GOP's Bad Bet: Right-Wing Lionization Of Cliven Bundy Backfires In Wake Of Racist Outburst

Cliven Bundy, the lawless Nevada rancher whom conservatives touted as a champion of freedom akin to Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., said at a press conference attended by the New York Times yesterday that slavery helped the “Negro” people feel free by learning “how to pick cotton” and stop going to jail, collecting welfare and having abortions.

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, “and in front of that government house the door was 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?” he asked. “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.”

Likely Republican presidential candidates including Rand Paul and Ted Cruz hailed Bundy’s cause and Nevada Republicans, including Senator Dean Heller, rallied around Bundy and allied militia groups. Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidate and former congressman Tom Tancredo said Bundy was defending the “rule of law” against the “anarchist” President Obama even while the rancher was in defiance of several court orders.

As it is often the case, Fox News took the lead in creating the new GOP rock star by fetishizing the Bundy armed standoff as a triumph of ordinary patriots who, in the mode of the Founding Fathers, stood up to evil Big Government…seeming to forget the Founders also played a role in quashing Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. Fox commentators like Sean Hannity and Todd Starnes touted Bundy even as the rancher’s group was making violent threats against the government.

Fox also took the lead in hailing Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson after he claimed that black people were well treated and “happy” during the Jim Crow era and that problems in the black community are only a result of government welfare.

Gun groups, Tea Partyers, Religious Right activists, and the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity all joined Fox News in lauding Bundy as a hero who stood up to Obama.

No one should be surprised that a violent, militia-aligned, anti-government extremist turned out to be a racist nostalgic for slavery, and neither should anyone be surprised that Republicans jumped on his cause.

During the Iowa caucus campaign, two Republican presidential candidates signed a Religious Right group’s declaration which said the black family was stronger under slavery, and attacking government programs as slavery has become a common right-wing talking point.

Now that Republicans and Fox News commentators may move to distance themselves from Bundy, it will serve as a reminder for the next time the GOP decides to get in bed with an anti-Obama extremist for freedom’s sake.