I am going to give the microphone to Jonathan Tobin so that he can preach some righteous truth at all of us:
You may have noticed that among the many and varied topics touched upon by COMMENTARY writers in recent weeks, none of us chose to weigh in on the Bundy Ranch controversy that attracted so much notice on cable news, talk radio, and the blogosphere. The reason was that none of us considered the standoff between a Nevada tax scofflaw and the federal government over grazing rights fees to rise to the level of an issue of national interest. The government may own too much land in the West and may have acted in a heavy-handed manner in this case but anyone with sense realized that stiffing the feds is likely to end badly for those who play that game, something that even a bomb-thrower like Glenn Beck appeared to be able to understand. Moreover, there was something slightly absurd about the same people who froth at the mouth when “amnesty” for illegal immigrants is mentioned demanding that Cliven Bundy be let off the hook for what he owed Uncle Sam.
Unfortunately some other conservatives liked the imagery of a rancher and his supporters opposing the arrogant power of the federal government and Bundy became, albeit briefly, the flavor of the month in some libertarian circles. So when he was caught uttering some utterly repulsive racist sentiments by the New York Times earlier this week some of the same pundits that had embraced him were sent running for cover. As they have fled, they have found themselves being pursued by jubilant liberals who have attempted to use Bundy’s lunatic rants to brand all of conservatives and Tea Partiers as racists. This was a popular theme today taken up by left-wingers at the New York Times, Salon, and New York magazine who all claimed that Bundy exposed the dark underside of libertarianism in general and conservative media in particular. While Jonathan Chait may consider to be an Onion-like coincidence that libertarian sympathizers are all crackpot racists, that is about as cogent an observation as an attempt to argue that most liberals are unwashed socialist/anti-Semitic lawbreakers just because many of the Occupy Wall Street protesters they embraced fell into those categories.
But there is another moral to this story that should give some on the right pause. In their enthusiasm to embrace anyone who sings from the same “agin the government” hymnal, some libertarians have proved themselves willing to lionize people that were liable to besmirch the causes they cherish. As our Pete Wehner pointed out recently, that some figures identified with conservatism have embraced sympathizers with the Confederacy as well as open racists and anti-Semites is a matter of record.
That the liberal attempt to tar all Tea Partiers as racists is unfair is beside the point. It is one thing to believe in small government, federalism, and to fear the willingness of liberals to undermine the rule of law. It is quite another to treat the government as not just a problem but as the enemy. The U.S. government is not the enemy. When run by responsible patriots it is, as it was designed to be, the best defense of our liberty, not its foe. . . .
It is frankly amazing and ridiculous that pundits and politicians on the starboard side of the political divide gravitated to supporting Bundy merely because he opposed the federal government regarding a particular matter. I recognize that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is something of a powerful motivator in the political sphere, but that doesn’t always mean that those who allow themselves to be motivated by such a sentiment make good decisions as a consequence. There was absolutely no attempt on the part of a host of right-of-center pundits and politicians to hang back, to check out and learn about the facts that led to the standoff, to see what developed in the standoff, and to determine whether Cliven Bundy was a figure worth supporting. He was not vetted in the slightest. Instead, his cause was embraced with reckless abandon by people who ought to have known better, and now, those same people are reaping the whirlwind. I’m sorry to say that this represents the just desserts of Bundy supporters, but I’m afraid it does. Maybe these folks will be more careful about choosing their heroes next time.
While we are discussing this matter, why should Cliven Bundy have been a figure worth supporting in the first place? Bundy is involved in a tax dispute with the federal government. Maybe he is in the right. Maybe not. To determine these and other related questions we have these wonderful things in the United States of America called “courts.” These “courts” hold events called “trials” in which a combination of law and fact is used to determine whether a particular party is in the right or in the wrong in some legal dispute or other. In the event that a trial court makes a mistake of law, we even have these things called “appellate courts” which can correct the trial court’s errors, thus protecting and making whole aggrieved parties who were harmed by a legal screwup on the part of the trial court. A brilliant set-up, no?
Bundy could have availed himself of these courts in order to make his case that the federal government was demanding too much of him in taxes. But if the courts find against him, Bundy then has to abide by the courts’ rulings and work to make the federal government whole. He cannot engage the federal government in a standoff, and as Tobin states, his supporters–who claim to be “law and order” types in other contexts–cannot expect that demands for leniency or (yes, I will type it) amnesty should or will be taken seriously by the federal government. That’s not the way that things work, and Bundy and his supporters should have recognized as much from the outset.
As for Bundy’s disgusting comments on race, neither I nor anyone else can compel him to hold more enlightened sentiments in his mind and heart, but perhaps someone with more patience than that which is possessed by your humble servant will try to explain to Bundy (slowly, and using simple words) that his comments on race made all of his supporters look bad, including those who never for one moment harbored the kind of racial animus that Bundy appears to harbor. And perhaps that same person can explain to Bundy supporters that the next time they go in search of a folk hero to publicly idolize, they had better make sure that folk hero in question does not embarrass them down the line.
I recognize that right-of-center folks are deeply suspicious of government power and want to make sure that such power is curbed and limited. I share in that sentiment, as anyone who reads my blog is aware. But not every opponent of government power is, or should be our friend. Let’s stop wasting our time and our prestige in lending support to those who manifestly do not deserve it. Doing so only serves to set back the honorable cause of responsibly and legally limiting the power of government.