A lot of progressive commentators, myself included, were fascinated yesterday by radio talker Dana Loesch’s argument that Cliven Bundy’s comments about “the Negro” reflected the reality that he’s a plain-spoken “old man rancher” who lacks the “media training” to express himself unoffensively.
Let’s look at this argument a bit more closely. Is Bundy too old to understand how to talk about the subject of race? He’s reportedly 67 years old (not that much older than I am, FWIW), which means he was a teenager during the Civil Rights era. In response to the furor over his remarks, he has insisted that he is not a racist. Now perhaps I am in a minority in arguing that subjective awareness of racism is at best a limited defense, but in any event, even David Duke was known to have denied he was a racist on occasion, so Bundy’s protestations do not cut much ice.
But aside from how you choose to characterize Bundy himself, Loesch’s “media training” argument does draw attention to the fact that quite a few conservatives—some of them African-Americans—have made parallel remarks about minority folk with considerably greater polish. MSNBC’s Adam Serwer has a useful round-up:
Former Florida Republican Rep. Allan West wrote in his recent book that “the Great Society has left a legacy of economic dependence, a new form of slavery, and to me, a far more dangerous one, because it destroys the will and determination to excel.” Aging former rock star and Republican campaign surrogate Ted Nugent once wrote that “President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society” would do “more damage, cause more harm and become responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined.” Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell wrote that ”The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”
Sometimes the Jim Crow South is substituted for slavery, like when Duck Dynasty star and last year’s conservative pop culture martyr Phil Robertson said that ”Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”
This all trickles down from somewhere. Slavery analogies are common among conservative figures like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, and it’s one of the reasons many conservatives have fallen in love with Ben Carson. In Washington, the critique of the welfare state is finessed into a more sophisticated argument that lacks references to slavery, and where race is usually discussed through euphemism or not at all. That’s when we begin to hear things like Rep. Paul Ryan speaking of “generations of men” in “inner cities” who don’t know “the value and the culture of work.” Then again, sometimes you have multimillionaire former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney railing against the “gifts” Barack Obama promised to “the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people.”
Serwer goes on to discuss the rather notable contradiction between Bundy’s freeloading use of federal land and his contempt for (or if you prefer, concern about) “Negro” dependence on government as a phenomenon that goes right back to Reconstruction and the myth of southern white dispossession by African-Americans backed (however briefly and fecklessly) by the federal government. He might have also noted the tendency in contemporary conservative politics to view means-tested government programs like Medicaid or Obamacare as being financed at the expense of “earned” government benefits like Medicare. In any event, Bundyism is not an isolated ideology of “old man ranchers” too ignorant to use correct terminology. It’s an important part of the psychological armor of those who resent the least powerful members of our society.
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