Seducing the Right

Seducing the Right
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This was something I drew a couple weeks ago, shortly before I went on a two-week visit to Toronto. Unfortunately, amid all the hustle and bustle of the trip, I never had time to write a proper essay to accompany it until now.

The image of a grotesque collection of militia-man stereotypes seeking to seduce a simple-minded elephant was my personal reaction to the overzealous willingness of some right-wingers to come to the defence of the vile Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy in his much-publicized standoff with federal agents over cattle grazing fees.

To those dogmatically convinced of the fundamental evil of Washington, DC, the deeper facts of this confrontation didn’t much matter — the enemy of my enemy was my friend. Shortly after the standoff began at Bundy’s ranch in early April, several high-profile Republican politicians and conservative media personalities rushed to defend his right to whatever it was he was defending, most notably Sean Hannity on FOX and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas.

Unfortunately, the more facts of the Bundy story became known, the harder their defensive posture became to maintain.

Bundy’s entire legal case, it was revealed, revolved not around any hard evidence of innocence, but simply that he didn’t recognize the authority of the federal government. He had, in fact, been grazing his cattle illegally on federally-owned land for over two decades; he simply didn’t care to pay the penalties because he’d arbitrarily decided his personal “claim” superseded federal jurisdiction. Predictably, these arguments failed to persuade the courts during numerous trials (in which he obviously represented himself), and after 21 straight years of losses, his outstanding fines totalled over a million dollars and left pretty much all his property fair game for forfeiture. If anything, the fact that his cattle were still happily grazing away in the year 2014 despite decades of warnings and reprimand was evidence of government weakness, not power.

You clearly have to have a couple screws loose to be so cocksure about all this “sovereign citizen gobbledygook,” and as the weeks progressed, this became another inescapable reality of the Cliven Bundy Show.

Late last month, at the peak of his fame as the leading folk hero of the subversive right, Bundy offered what the New York Times charitably described as a “long, loping discourse” on racial matters at one of his already traditionally painful daily press conferences.

The problem with “the Negro,” he said, is that they all lie around all day and don’t do anything productive. Why, it’s enough to make a man wonder, “are they better off as slaves?” At least back then they had cotton to pick.

Any hopes that Bundy had merely stated a somewhat valid sociological point through an inelegant metaphor were then dashed further when he doubled down at his next presser, declaring confidently that “I understand what slavery’s all about” and standing by his thought exercise despite it. You could practically hear the thunder of shoes hitting pavement as the man’s one-time allies stampeded away.

To be sure, Bundy’s popularity was always fairly exaggerated. Glenn Beck and Ann Coulter, for instance, were consistently Bundy-skeptic, as was the National ReviewRed StateBreitbart, and indeed, the majority of mainstream conservatives who looked seriously at this strange little man and his self-righteous “plight.”

Yet this disgust was itself revealing. Many conservatives, such as Coulter, fretted over what we may call the “sex appeal” of figures like Bundy to populist right-wingers — figures who, because they mouthed a few correct slogans and told a story that jelled with preexisting suspicions, were immediately canonized with little critical thought. It’s our version of those dopey leftists who fell way too deeply in love with Occupy Wall Street way too quickly, she said.

In my mind, the lazy embrace of terrible “activists” is the direct product of an increasingly polarized, omnipresent political culture. One that demands the categorization of just about every object, person, and occurrence in society into a tidy either/or, for-or-against partisan dichotomy, with the greatest prizes awarded to those who are most dogmatically “consistent,” and the harshest punishments for those who seem pragmatic or equivocating. Even now, you have counter-counterculture pundits like Mark Steyn and Gavin McInnes who still seem afraid to denounce Bundy too hard, lest they even for one scant minute appear on the same side as the left. To the extent they want to be seen disagreeing with him, they have to make it painfully evident that their disagreement is strictly on their own terms.

Conservatism in America seems to be entering a stage of increased anxiety. With mid-term elections just around the corner, and with them the promise of recapturing both houses of Congress and snipping the wings of President Obama for the remainder of his tenure, the GOP’s need to avoid what the Canadian press, in a different context, once dubbed the “bozo eruptions” of a radical, uncensored right-wing base has never been more pressing. The challenge of American politics, however, is that a party system based on self-identification (Bundy, for what it’s worth, is apparently a registered Republican) makes guilt-by-association a distressingly easy game, particularly for a liberal-leaning press and blogosphere.

It’s not difficult for leading GOP politicians to denounce the Cliven Bundys of the world, and declare the crankish, ignorant worldview he represents as thoroughly non-indicative of mainstream conservative values.

Far more of a challenge to permanently alter the broader ideological culture that caused such denunciations to be necessary in the first place.


  1. Michael

    I haven't read the editorial for this one yet but the comic is genuine "laugh out loud" material. Nice one, JJ!

  2. ThePsudo

    It's good to get a reminder now and then that belonging to the same party is not the same as agreeing about everything. Standing up for strangers, right or wrong, simply because they have the correct letter after their name is absurdly stupid.

  3. Dryhad

    Does he even have a letter after his name? I was under the impression that this type of extremist was sincere in their anti-government beliefs, and therefore opposed governments and politicians in general no matter what party they represented (the kind who think George Bush was a communist, you know?). What's happening here is there's a mythology in the right about the evils of government and taxation and here comes a man who appears to slip easily into the role of hero in that story. It's not that he considers himself a Republican, he doesn't need to because the hero of that story is so everyone assumes he must be.

  4. ThePsudo

    JJ says, "Bundy, for what it’s worth, is apparently a registered Republican." That was the basis of my "letter after their name" statement. If that's how he self-identifies, if that's the box he checked on the voter regeneration form, that's all the proof of party allegiance that the law actually recognizes or that the party requires.

  5. Dryhad

    Oh, sorry, missed that.

  6. Jake_Ackers

    TY. Also I hate it when people assume my position because they think I lean a certain way. Or assume I hold that position because some nutjob that happens to lean my way says.

    It's the problem with our politics. People think you only have 2 choices. Every time I discuss theory with someone they go all crazy. But then I explain what I would do and they say "Oh you should run for office." Political positions can be more nuanced. We need a 3rd party if for anything, just to throw the nutjobs into that group.

  7. Amilam

    I think part of the problem is the rush on the Right to be there first. To be the one leading the charge. Above all, to be most pure in the Conservative ideology. When you've defined anyone Right of absolute rightwing purity as a squishy RHINO then there's not much incentive to moderate out wait. In fact even An Coulter is regularly called a RHINO in the comment sections of sites like Town Hall. Indeed, Bundy's comments are commonly defended on these same forums. Equating the modern situation of Blacks in America with slavery, and the Democratic Party with slave masters, is routine and seen as self evident. Likewise that abortion is worse than the Holocaust.

    This doesn't demonstrate explicit racism in my opinion, no more than saying abortion is worse than saying the Holocaust demonstrates antisemitism, but rather that the Right is so staunch in their opposition of these select issues that nothing is allowed to be seen as a bigger threat or atrocity.

    By fanning and mainstreaming these positions the GOP been very successful on the local, state, and even the Congressional level, but it carries a lot of baggage in the pursuit of the White House.

    That said, if they ever had control like Obama did I think they would rapidly introduce radical and rapid reform. While this might horrify many on the Left, at least we see a consistent and coherent ideology. The modern Democratic party seems wed only to a select few issues and even those are thrown over if they think it would impede electoral results.

  8. Iokobos

    I sympathize with his situation, but not necessarily the person.

    I support state's rights to manage their own land, instead of the federal leviathan. I support a private citizen standing against an over-reactive government sending in snipers and attack helicopters. I support freedom of expression and right to bear arms against 'first amendment zones.' I even support his right to make outlandish statements, though I don't agree with everything he says.

    I don't support a media ginning up his outlandish statements, when the real issue is a private citizen being pushed off his land in favor of an 'endangered' tortoise that is so endangered that it's population in those area has to be culled. I don't support a federal government using its ability to designate 'endangered' or 'threatened' animals to push itself on private business practices.

  9. Chris Ludiwg

    I don't understand how this is relevant to the story. Regardless of whether or not your feel the State or the Federal Government should have rights to the land, it's clear he does not. The Arizona State government, the one he claims to recognize and follow, has clearly said that he's in the wrong. Breaking the law for 20+ years for his own personal gain does not make him a hero or a sympathetic figure. Nor are armed vigilantes getting in stand offs with the Federal Government and trying to put women in the front line.

    The Governments reaction may have been over the top, but we're talking about an exaggerated legal reaction versus a plainly illegal one.

  10. Iokobos

    It's relevant in that Bundy concedes his case to the state of Arizona, and has been making lease payments to the state to use what he considers to be his land. After that, the legality is secondary.

    Armed vigilantes and "putting women in the front line" – a word-of-mouth statement from other people. Some of those so-called 'vigilantes' are women, you know. Exactly what judgment and punishment did they inflict?

  11. Colin Minich

    No, it isn't. If it's federal land, then by the US Constitution itself that federal land supersedes state jurisdiction. Bundy had been making ZERO payments to any federal entity for grazing on FEDERAL land. No, the legality is the primary function. We in society operate because of laws. Don't make this some sentimental absurdity about individual liberty when the action is from all sides in the wrong.

  12. ThePsudo

    The law is hard, but it is the law.

    This is also my view on technically illegal marijuana use, and on gay marriage being legal in some states and banned in others. Follow the law until it is changed; that's my policy.

  13. Amilam

    There. "What he considers. " The problem is that it's not what the State or Federal Government considers. I don't understand how legality suddenly becomes secondary he decides as much. That doesn't logically follow.

    Yes there are armed woman. That's not in dispute. Is putting them in front to draw national attention in the case of a shoot out and in no uncertain terms martyrering them acceptable?

    Your last sentence needs clarification.

  14. Monte

    The federal government is not pushing him off his land because it is NOT his land. He has no right to it what-so-ever. His ability to use the land has ALWAYS been based on what the federal government allows. If he doesn't want to pay the fees to use the land, then he can't use the land. He tried to defend his claim to use the land, but he failed to provide evidence of his claim in the court of law. There are no if's and or buts about it.

  15. Stranger

    How is it in any way his land? Because he says it is? Why does his word matter more than the feds? And its all well and good defending his right to blather on about whatever horrible thing he wants, because he isnt targeting you with it.

  16. Jake_Ackers

    He says since he is Mormon his ancestors have some legal claim to the land. Which I think is true for some people, just not for him.

  17. Stranger

    THIS guy calls himself a mormon? He's a mormon in the same sense that L Ron Hubbard was a philosopher

  18. Guest

    One of the problems with adopting a position is the company you attract.
    Occasionally I have asked someone to argue for the other side because the stupidity of their points weakens the strengths of my own.
    Sometimes attracting the loony fringe makes you look like a loony.

  19. Guest

    The way I understand this is that Bundy is a racist asshole whose is grazing illegally on federal property. He refused to pay the fines, so the Federal Government seized his cattle, which they could not sell, and gave a heavily armed response.

    The two main issues I see in this is the militarization of police force and the general incompetence of government. The fact that Bundy got away with this for 20 years is something nobody seems to bring up. Additionally, the government responded with way over the top and expensive show of force. If the government responded properly with a court order and a few policemen this wouldn't have made it on the news.

    This is at least how I view the issue.

  20. Kristian Svenson

    The government DID issue court orders for those 20 years. He didn't care.
    Then the government sent a few police officers and they WERE SENT AWAY AT GUNPOINT.

  21. StephenM3

    Court orders and small numbers of police only work if Bundy obeys them. They sent those things, but he dismissed them. Police can't arrest someone pointing a gun at them unless they're willing to shoot back. If you're going to shoot back at a heavily-armed criminal, you need to bring more firepower than they have.

    The government had the choice of either letting him continue on the land, sending "a few policemen" again and again to no success, or escalating the situation by bringing more force.

  22. Guest

    Fair point, but I would argue that the force use against Bundy was excessive and primarily a show of force.

  23. Jake_Ackers

    I don't he is an out and out racist. Rather he is just plain ignorant. Did he even go to school?

  24. Jake_Ackers

    At the end of the day Bundy is a freeloader. He wants taxpayers to pay for his cattle to be fed. Whether it be legal or not, whether it is state or federal. Doesn't matter. Still a freeloader.

    Who does he think he is? A Native American? "This is my ancestral land!" Surprised Republicans back in the first place.

    Harry Reid calling him a terrorist was over the line though. Considering they were reluctant to label Benghazi a terror act. Moreover, all those "environmentalists" who do worst and get simply called "activists" by people like Reid.

    Moreover, I think it should be illegal for the federal government to own more than439.9% of a state. It's a matter of principle. Nevada and the like are like 80% federal or so. Ridiculous. It's like when your collective income tax is more than 49.9%. It's thief.

  25. HeartRight

    Howzat? New States -and Arizona is fairly new – are made out of US Territory. Unless the Federal Government says otherwise, the whole of it is federal property.

    Arizona is the 48th state and last of the contiguous states to be admitted to the Union, achieving statehood on February 14, 1912. It was previously part of the territory of Alta California in New Spain before being passed down to independent Mexico and later ceded to the United States after the Mexican-American War.

  26. SES

    Would they be able to get rid of that much land? Most of it is still federal because it's not very valuable land.

  27. Stranger

    Why is it ridiculous? They're the goverment, they own the land by default. Anything else is just a matter of splitting hairs.

  28. Jake_Ackers

    By default the land should of been given to the states when they became states.

    It's a matter of principle. Sell it to the states, pay of the national debt. Arizona says it has a surplus so they can buy it. Or give it to the states for free.

  29. Amilam

    I think this is reasonable with the exception of National Parks I think states are better qualified to manage that land.

  30. HeartRight

    Which principle? States Rights, perhaps?

    The State, that is the Federal Government owns that parcel of rea estate outright.
    There is no prima facie constiutional prohibtion against that, or you would have quoted it by now.
    Ergo, the State can do as it pleases.

  31. Amilam

    He's saying what should be, not what legally is.

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