Why Was the Right Caught Flat-Footed By Cliven Bundy’s Cranky Racism?

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By now I assume you’ve all heard about Cliven Bundy’s remarks to the New York Times yesterday? In case you’ve been vacationing on Mars, here they are:

“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.”

I don’t have anything to add that (a) isn’t obvious and (b) hasn’t already been said by someone else, but I do share Paul Waldman’s reaction: “Is anyone surprised that Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has become a Fox News hero because of his stand-off with the Bureau of Land Management, turns out to be a stone-cold racist?”

That’s a good question. Is anyone on the right surprised by this? (I think it’s safe to say that exactly zero lefties are surprised.) That’s not a rhetorical question on my part. Look: conservatives should never have rallied around Bundy in the first place, but if they’re even minimally self-aware about his particular niche in the conservative base, surely they should have seen something like this coming and kept their distance just out of sheer self-preservation. But apparently they didn’t. They didn’t have a clue that a guy like Bundy was almost certain to backfire on them eventually. They seem to have spent so long furiously denying so much as a shred of racial resentment anywhere in their base that they’ve drunk their own Kool-Aid.

On a tangential note, as near as I can tell Paul Ryan never embraced Bundy publicly. Does anyone know if that’s right? It’s one reason I think he could be a dangerous presidential candidate. Despite his “inner city” gaffe of a few weeks ago, he’s smarter about this stuff than most folks who have managed to stay on the right side of the tea party.

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THE BIG PICTURE

You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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