"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. 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."
Political figures who rallied to defend Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy must have known they were taking a risk. Indeed, much of the Republican establishment chose to do the exact opposite precisely because they were afraid to gamble on a man who doesn't recognize the legitimacy of the United States government.
But some prominent GOP officials rolled the dice anyway. Fox News and Glenn Beck celebrated the rancher as a hero, while U.S. senators like Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) cheered Bundy on, calling him a "patriot," even as he declared an ability to ignore laws and court orders he doesn't like.
It's become increasingly difficult to maintain this posture. For one thing, anyone relying on the threat of violence to act above the law hasn't earned the backing of anyone in the American mainstream. For another, some of the basic elements of Bundy's claims now appear to be false.
Making matters considerably worse, the New York Times' Adam Nagourney reports that Bundy spoke with supporters over the weekend about his views on a variety of societal issues.
Congratulations, Sean Hannity. You really know how to pick 'em.
I'm reminded of a recent quote from a Nevada conservative activist who told Politico, "It's like, really, Glenn Beck? This is the issue you want to get behind? People who aren't in tune with the story just jumped all over it. And then you go back and read the facts of the story, and then you go, 'Uh oh.'"
And that was a week ago, before Bundy decided to start prefacing his remarks by saying, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro...."
Frankly, it was pretty obvious before that federal lawmakers like Rand Paul and Dean Heller were making a huge mistake rallying behind Bundy. When it comes to choosing a proper cause celebre, it's best not to choose a man who's said, "I don't recognize [the] United States government as even existing," and whose supporters appeared prepared for a confrontation -- a potentially violent confrontation -- with American law enforcement.
But some Republicans and conservative media personalities took the leap anyway, associating themselves with Mr. They Never Learned How To Pick Cotton and his well-armed friends.
"Uh oh," indeed.
Update: Christie Stephenson reminds me that the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity also extended support to Bundy's crusade.
Second Update: Both Heller and Paul have denounced Bundy's comments on race.