Cliven Bundy, Racism, Politics, and History
Cliven Bundy spouted off racist generalizations the other day as reported by a New York Times journalist, stereotyping blacks in negative fashion, with unhinged referencing to slavery -- and after that in an ad hoc talk generalizing about Mexican immigrants in positive condescension.
Does that outburst prove Bundy’s resistance to a bullying Bureau of Land Management is racially driven? Or that his cattleman’s existence on the Western range is now tainted?
What are the general rules about assessing issues when the involved parties voice odious creeds?
The difference between a private life and a public career matters. If cowboy Cliven Bundy were organizing a formal resistance to the federal government by emphasizing racist doctrines, then he would be dangerous in the way Rev. Jeremiah Wright was scary in spouting racist diatribes to thousands in his congregation and on his CDs -- including to the future president of the United States.
Bundy’s racist pop-theorizing is odious, but not integral to his argument over grazing rights with the federal government. A bit different was the racial hate-mongering of Rev. Wright that seemed to underpin his efforts to build and expand a church and its affiliated community-organizing movements -- and drew prominent Chicagoans into his church.
If Bundy’s racism is his own, it is still regrettable and loses him personal sympathy on moral grounds. But his bigotry does not necessarily affect the issues at hand of a cattle rancher being singled out by a federal bureaucracy, in an example of selective, overreaching, and dangerous enforcement.
Last week, a cab driver in Los Angeles did a marvelous job in navigating me through traffic on the congested 405 freeway. That he shared with me (the tip was prepaid), in a well-articulated thesis, his crackpot ideas about evil conspiratorial whites creating the AIDS virus to infect blacks of the inner city was racist to the core, but his bias did not change the fact that he was one of the most skilled and savvy drivers I have encountered. I could see no connection between his Farrakhan-like racism and either his driving skill or treatment of his passenger.