Cliven Bundy is the cattle rancher out in Nevada who had that tense standoff the with federal government’s Bureau of Land Management. As a result of that affair, his subsequent racist rants and his 20-year history as a thief, I am naming him the latest recipient of the Red Forman Dumbass Award. In a presidential election year, Cliven Bundy may have teach the presidential candidates some lessons on racism.
For those of you who haven’t watched the late and lamented “That ’70s Show,” Red Forman was a curmudgeonly father, a hard-working Korea War vet who just didn’t understand why his son and his friends behaved foolishly. He had a term for them: dumbasses.
Previous winners of the Red Forman Dumbass Award are: Paul Ryan, George Zimmerman, Donald Rumsfeld and Eric and Charlotte Kaufman. The Kaufmans were the people who wanted to sail around with world with a toddler and a baby and had to be rescued by the U.S. Navy.
So, why does Cliven Bundy deserve to join such an ignominious crew?
Let’s start with the fact that the man is a thief. He has grazed his cattle on federal land but has not paid the grazing fees for over 20 years. Now, in my book, when you take something and don’t pay for it, that’s theft. Up until 1993, Bundy paid the grazing fee, but when the government designated some of the land on which his cattle graze a conservation area (to protect the endangered desert tortoise), he wasn’t happy. He stopped paying the fee. Grazing fees aren’t a lot on federal land, but over 20 years, the fees plus fines and interest add up. In this case, he owes $1.1 million to the federal government. That is, he owes “We the People” — you and me. I don’t know about you, but I can’t really afford to let a $1.1 million debt slide.
Had he really been protesting the tortoise thing, there is a tried-and-true way he could have proved his honesty — an escrow account. When you have a dispute with a landlord, you are perfectly entitled to withhold the rent, but as any good real estate attorney will tell you, it looks really good in court if you have paid the rent into an escrow account. Bundy didn’t do that.
Then there is the standoff. When the Bureau of Land Management (which has won every time it has taken Bundy to court on this) started rounding up the cattle on its land, Bundy and other yahoos showed up with guns and talked a bunch of smack about government overreach and tyranny and states’ rights. The result was a very tense situation between two groups of people with guns.
The right has raised the specters of Ruby Ridge and Waco, both places where standoffs with the authorities turned violent. Fortunately in Nevada, someone in the BLM was smart enough to deescalate before anyone got killed. Note to the militias: as a general rule, the side that has nuclear weapons will beat the side organized by guys from a bowling league or the local 4H alumni association. Bundy’s supporters are alive today because the government didn’t use the force it could have; they were spared more out of pity than anything.
Of course, the wise decision by the BLM did make Bundy a national figure, and in any fight with your government, you need public opinion on your side. Bundy had won over Fox News, and then promptly nailed down his Dumbass Award with racist dumbassery.
For example, Adam Nagourney of The New York Times quoted Bundy saying, “‘I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,’ 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 apologize to my editor for the double negatives, but they aren’t mine.
Shortly after that hit the fan, Bundy’s rightist supporters did back flips to get some distance. Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who had called him and his supporters “patriots,” had to issue a statement that used the word “appalling” to describe Bundy’s views. Rand Paul, who had said Bundy raised a “legitimate constitutional question,” had to say “I wholeheartedly disagree with him.” Greta Van Susteren at Fox News issued a statement deploring his comments. Zachary Moyle, who serves as spokesman for the Koch Brothers-funded Americans For Prosperity’s Nevada branch, said, “It’s important to note that our opposition to wasteful government spending in no way lends support to offensive remarks made by Mr. Bundy or anyone else.”
So for stealing a million dollars from his fellow citizens, creating an armed confrontation with the government, and then losing all the hearts and minds of his newly won supporters, Cliven Bundy is our newest Red Forman Dumbass Award “winner.”