Although it’s difficult not to revel in the likes of Sean Hannity and Rand Paul
scurrying like roaches for the cover of darkness, the more chilling aspects of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s awkward lurch into and out of the spotlight should leave Americans with serious questions about the unholy trinity of right-wing media, the National Rifle Association and the barely clandestine racism permeating conservative politics.
Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” began what has been almost a half-century of largely successful GOP efforts to turn the once reliably Democratic South into a Republican stronghold. Honed to near perfection by the late Lee Atwater, who in 1988 — using such dog whistles as “states’ rights” and the notorious Willie Horton ad — helped George H.W. Bush turn a 17-point summer deficit into a landslide victory over Michael Dukakis.
The myth of an oppressed white minority — vigorously spun by fake journalists at Fox News and endorsed by an increasing number of mainstream Republicans held hostage by the party’s lunatic fringe — has evolved into dogma, coupled with “more guns” being the answer to every question and having a black president being the root of all evil.
Since Barack Obama’s election, the rhetoric has been amped as the motivation becomes ever more transparent. He has been called “uppity,” “boy” and “a subhuman mongrel” by GOP lawmakers or activists; depicted as a monkey or with a bone in his nose on placards at tea party rallies; variously referred to as a Chicago “thug” and the “food stamp president” and accused of stirring up racial tension and violence. That these epithets retain appeal anywhere continues to astonish.
The predictable extension of this perversion of everything America stands for is Bundy’s stream-of-consciousness perception of “the blacks” — wishing they’d learned to “pick cotton” and being better off as slaves. So patently clueless and out of touch, the remarks might initially engender something like pity for a man too stupid to be embarrassed. Until you remember his supporters in Congress; staunch defenders in the freak media; and most extraordinarily, the insane clown posse of heavily armed men on horseback seemingly ready to play out a Wayne LaPierre fantasy: doing battle with the federal government.
In a jaw-dropping TV interview, Richard Mack, a former sheriff from Arizona planning the “armed response,” suggested with a straight face that whacko central was “strategizing to put all the women up front,” reasoning that once the shooting started “it’s women who are going to be televised all across the world being shot.” There was no report on whether “all the women” were consulted about this tactical maneuver.
Amazingly, Bundy wasn’t quite done. Even before any of his irresponsible right-wing cheerleaders could reach their fallout shelters, he clarified, shifting the blame to Martin Luther King for not having “got his job done yet,” evidently believing that the late civil rights icon’s task should have included ensuring that “those people” wouldn’t be offended by words such as “Negro,” “black boy” or “slave.” He added as an afterthought: “We need to get over this prejudice stuff.”
Sympathizers quickly rallied to Bundy’s defense, equating any reference to his gaffes with playing the “race card,” suggesting critics were purposely taking things out of context to distract from the “real issues,” which of course had absolutely nothing to do with the rancher breaking the law for years by freeloading on public land, defying a series of court orders, or threatening a shootout with the Bureau of Land Management.
The real issue was freedom, at least freedom for white people rather than “those” people, because in the perfect conservative world, African-Americans would be better off as cotton-picking slaves; the most helpful thing for women to do is getting shot first; and cowboy goon squads can trump the rule of law simply by showing up with guns.
The subsequent reluctance of Republican leaders to loudly and unequivocally condemn the events in Nevada is rooted in their fear of alienating the base they’ve created and nurtured for years with thinly veiled, toxic rhetoric on race. Those on the right certainly have no issue with tenets espoused by Bundy — because they created them. Their only problem is that he dared say them out loud.
Walt Amses is a former educator and writer from North Calais.
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