After largely ignoring the dispute between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the mainstream media has been in frenzy over allegedly racist remarks he made while addressing a group of supporters earlier this month. In their typical style, they have cherry-picked a few selected words from a larger statement, causing the left to pounce and the right to distance itself from him faster than it takes Mozilla to load a webpage, or scuttle a CEO. Lost in this bonfire of self-righteous indignation is the full context of what Cliven Bundy was trying to say and why as a nation we need to have the conversation that this simple Nevada rancher clumsily started.
Mr. Bundy may not be a loquacious man and comes from a bygone era, as his usage of the terms “colored” and “negro” indicate, but in their zeal for both ratings and a more sinister ideological agenda, the mainstream media has done him, and all of us, a disservice by choosing to focus on select words, rather than the full context of his statement.
A simple scan of headlines displayed on Google will provide the casual reader with a very distinct understanding of the issue. “Bundy: Blacks Better off as Slaves” is the typical teaser that one is met with as they peruse the internet or watch the scrolling headlines at the bottom of CNN, MSNBC and even FOX. Talking heads are out in force, elbowing each other to get to the front of line to loudly proclaim the alleged racism of Cliven Bundy, and to assure us all of their own gentle goodness and enlightened viewpoint. End of story, end of discussion. Like saying “bomb” on a plane, his use of a few select words are all that’s needed for the so-called enlightened to be able to look into the heart of a man and assess his character.
For liberals, this is Christmas come early. They are able to, in one fell swoop, dismiss whatever claims he and his fellow ranchers have against the BLM and are able to convince the public (and themselves) that they are “on the right side” for their unique understanding of the pervasive nature of racism in this country and are given yet another example of conservative racism in Bundy’s statement that “blacks were better off under slavery.” For conservatives, it provides them the opportunity to distance themselves from “the far right” and hopefully win over viewers or voters.
The only problem is that he did not make a statement. He asked a rhetorical question. While the mainstream media has narrowed its focus to those six words, which on their own can very easily be construed as provocative and bigoted, viewers need to watch the entire 3 minute statement, in which he goes on to address the illegal alien issue as well, and consider what he said:
What Bundy inadvertently did when he spoke to supporters at his Nevada ranch was begin a national conversation that many conservatives feel the nation needs to have, but have been unable to get onto the national radar. Rather than recoil from the Bundy remarks, and waste energy trying to convince those who will never be convinced, conservatives would be wise to utilize this moment to have an honest and open conversation with black Americans on what they feel is a sincere problem that affects of large portion of the black community and a growing portion of both the white and Latino communities.
His choice of tying slavery into his assessment of the issues facing poor blacks (as well as poor whites and Latinos) in urban centers is not altogether inaccurate. As many on the right view it, liberty and more specifically self-determination is the most precious of gifts this nation affords its citizens. The right to stand or fall based on one’s own merits and efforts is something to be treasured and was denied to the vast majority of humanity prior to the wonderful experiment of modern democracy and the founding of this nation.
That the institution of slavery was evil is self-evident. It is a stain on our national soul that will most likely be one we will never fully purge ourselves from. That it was so obviously wicked often prevents us from exploring the precise reasons that the enslavement of human beings is a civil evil. Yes, it goes without saying that the commercial trade of human flesh, the whipping, the degradation and the physical aspects of slavery are all immoral, but what is the greatest evil that slavery bestowed on the individual? That is the question that is pertinent when the right-wing speaks of “bureaucratic enslavement.” The ultimate evil of this institution was that slavery denied individual the chance at self-determination. It denied the enslaved a future.
Since the dawn of time, certainly prior to the industrial revolution, the average life of a human being was fairly short and miserable. Life was a constant battle for survival and to meet the needs simply to sustain life. Men of low standing worked excruciatingly long hours, starting before dawn, toiling fields or lugging materials for a local noble or landowner, often subjected to degradation and privation. In the American South, many a poor white was subjected to the position of indentured servant, paying off either a monetary debt through their labor or as a result of a crime committed. While they slept in “slave” quarters, were punished with the sting of the whip and separated from their families, there is no comparison to what was faced by the slave brought over from Africa. The indentured servant had one very precious thing the African slave did not, a future. As the sun beat down on him and blood dripped from his cotton-picking hands, the indentured servant could at the very least look forward in his mind to the great day when his debt would be paid and he would be granted his release from bondage.
The slave did not enjoy this hope. He or she had absolutely no input into their future and was in effect no different on paper than livestock. At the whim of the man holding his ownership papers, he could be sold to another, uprooted from his friends and family, never to see them again. He had no control and no chance to improve his lot in life. To those who the lefts derides as “flag wavers” and “tea-baggers,” this is the ultimate fear. When they speak of government intrusion, they do not suppose that the citizenry will herded into large conference halls to pledge their loyalty to Big Brother, but that the mechanism of government will become so pervasive that our choices as citizens and options for a better future will be limited. In other words, the denial of self-determination is akin to slavery. This is in no way to be compared to the experience of 18th & 19th century slavery, but a denial of free will. The social welfare system as administered through “Great Society” programs, is often seen as a road leading to a 21st century benign and iPhone-friendly slavery.
When Bundy spoke specifically to the effect of the welfare state on African-Americans, he was touching on a subject that is of increasing concern to conservatives. While it is indeed a fact that this problems knows no color, as there are more actual welfare recipients that are white than black, it would be disingenuous to use this data metric to pretend it has not disproportionately harmed the urban black community. Conservatives of all hues bemoan the devastating correlation between the rise of the welfare state and the decline of the two-parent, nuclear household. This is often seen as they key data point from which all major social problems in this country stem. Whether by nefarious design or unforeseen consequence, the manner in which we as a nation have administered these programs has led to the breaking up of families and the acquiescence of forfeiting one’s self-determination.
The vast majority of conservatives concede that some form of social safety net is needed in a complex and evolving society such as ours. While rightfully steadfast in the belief that capitalism is the greatest vehicle for upward mobility of the masses and an engine for natural and just redistribution of wealth, it is also understood that this beautiful system is often an uncertain one. The reality of the free market guarantees that companies (and entire industries) will rise and fall, become displaced and change geographic focus. Because of this, human beings are affected when these natural shifts occur. None of us are immune from this and many a straight ticket GOP voter has found themselves at an unemployment or welfare office at some point in their lifetime and understands these needs. But there is a distinct difference between a safety net and a spider web, and there is ample evidence to contend that the “Great Society” has become the latter.
Whereas in 1964 the percentage of single-parent births stood at four percent for whites and 21 percent for blacks, it has jumped to an alarming 29 percent for white Americans and a terrifyingly high 72 percent for black Americans (41 percent overall). While data doesn’t reach as far back for Latinos, we see a similar and disturbing pattern there as well for American born Latinos (interestingly, in his allegedly racist rant, Mr. Bundy chides whites and compliments immigrant Latinos on this subject, taking a position that many in the Tea Party would consider “liberal”). Even the left-of-center Brookings Institute notes the effect that the social welfare system, as currently administered, contributes to this problem. As they put it, the social welfare programs have all but eliminated the financial necessity of paternal involvement and the “shotgun wedding.” While this may certainly ease the mind of a frightened and unsure soon-to-be teen age father, this “out” we have provided him ultimately turns out to be detrimental to the long-term success of the mother, the child and the would be father himself.
Prior to the “Great Society” young expectant couples had little choice but to marry (or at least engage in cohabitation, often with other family members) while the father, or both, worked menial jobs. There was no question that the young man would be expected to “do the right thing” and take responsibility for the life he created. It wasn’t easy then and it isn’t easy now, but this has been the way of our species since it all began. To not do so would cause one to be shunned and often driven from the town, tribe or clan if he failed to live up to his fatherly duties. So the young man would work all day, possibly in two jobs, the young mother would do her part as well, not only as primary caregiver to the child but contributing to the family economy in whatever way the dictates of their particular community allowed, be it 12th century Indonesia or 1937 New York City. Difficult as this may be, with each passing season the family unit generally made some form of progress, sometimes not, but the important ting was they did this together, as a unit. The extended family was a vital part of this unit as well. The concept of the family as a “corporation” was at the heart of end of Bundy’s statement in reference to the migrant Latinos he has employed and worked with.
In our so-called “progressive” modern society, liberals have successfully argued that intrinsic happiness should trump outdated values and traditions of honor and responsibility. After all, these young people shouldn’t be “forced” into a relationship with someone they may not ultimately be compatible for. They cite the notion of the “traditional family” as a provincial mindset designed to reinforce the patriarchal nature of society and thwarts female liberation and gender equality, and most other theories concocted during the 20th century in college courses with the term “Studies” in the title.
So the young man is relieved of his financial responsibility, by virtue of a benevolent state bureaucracy which will ensure that the young mother is provided access to health and prenatal services, food and milk for herself and the baby. In some cases, she may qualify for housing assistance, which negates the need to stay with pesky parents or other relatives. The caveat, of course, being that the young couple, in most cases, may not live together and any documented income the mother has will mean a deduction of some or all of these benefits.
So our young man is free to pursue “happiness.” There are certainly many cases in which the young father maintains a close connection with the mother and the soon to be born child, let’s make that perfectly clear. But there are enough cases, as we can readily see, that the temptations of being young and free of responsibility can lead a young man into a lifestyle and choices which prove to be damaging to him and his loved ones. Speaking as a male, I can attest that we often need be dragged kicking and screaming to make the transformation from young ne’er-do-well into responsible and productive member of society. We certainly don’t need the state to make it easier to extend our adolescence and to delay putting away childish things.
A year or two goes by and our young man begins to mature a bit, it is very likely that at some point the fact that someone else is talking responsibility for the care of his child begins to hit his pride. Other than the most irresponsible and uncaring man wants to see someone else, whether it be another man or Uncle Sam, doing for his child which he knows in his heart he should be doing himself. If he has failed to utilize this time to better himself, either through education or increasing his tangible job skills, he is still faced with the knowledge that any legitimate work will not even provide what the state is already doing. Logically, what is the point of entering the workforce when it will take a few years just to reach an economic level that the mother already enjoys? So maybe our man decides to cut a few corners, take a few chances. Our society is filled with dubious characters out there looking to “hire” young men (and women) into the underground market. We are all aware that while this route can provide some fast money, a few months or even years of success, at some point his luck will run out. A few too many chances, poor choices and the law of averages catch up with him and he finds himself on a bus headed toward the penitentiary.
Whatever their relationship was prior to this, the family unit is further severed. Soon our young mother realizes she isn’t all that young any more and as either her timeline for benefits is drawing to a close, or simply has had enough of dealing with social workers and bureaucrats, she looks up to find that she is without tangible work experience and entering a job market at the bottom level, competing with people far younger and more energetic, who didn’t have to stay up late the night before preparing lunches and assisting with class projects. If she were to become pregnant again, there are certainly enough fears to begin driving the whispers in her ear, suggesting to take the “convenient” and take care of the “problem.” That she may ultimately regret that decision, and may indeed be haunted by it the remainder of her life is of little concern to the source of those whispers.
Is this example the case with everyone who has ever sought out state assistance? Of course not. But the example given is far from unique. We all most likely know someone, or many, whose lives parallel this sad tale. They are white, they are Latino, they are even Asian, and yes, they are black. This is a problem that knows no skin color, although it does no good to pretend that certain communities are affected by this more than others, and varies based on race/ethnicity and geographic location. They are our friends, our cousins, our neighbors and our children. They are us. And with each generation, the numbers grow. Every night millions of children will go to bed without that other parent there to kiss their forehead and tell them they are loved and adored above anything else on this planet. This is a tragedy of national proportions that should be of concern to all, regardless of our ideology.
This is the essence of what Cliven Bundy was driving at when he, albeit clumsily, made his comments on his Nevada ranch and started a conversation that this nation needs to have. We can’t look into Bundy’s heart and determine whether he is a bigot or not. But as we point our collective fingers at him, we should give benefit to hearing the full extent of his statement and the point he was trying to make. Then we should consider what is more “racist,” to drive by a poor area and notice things that bother us enough to comment on them, or to drive by and not give it another thought. This conversation should not focus on the past, but whether or not our desire to help the needy in our society is robbing them of self-determination and more importantly, their future.
Opinion by Paul Winters