Thursday, April 24, 2014

Is Bundy Racist or Inarticulate?


MAP: Where Obama Won 20% or less of the White Vote (Where Obama Lacks White Support). PIN: Bunkerville (The Bundy Ranch)

Rancher Cliven Bundy Makes Racist Remarks: Media Goes Into ‘Circus Mode’

The Nevada ranch stand-off took a turn for the not-entirely-surprising when, speaking before a set of reporters, he said this:

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.”

The response was quick and brutal: politicians defending him distanced themselves. While other people asked: What’s the big deal!? He just said it badly!

I’m starting to get pissed now because I don’t see the blatant racism that everyone is automatically assuming. Racism would be declaring blacks are good for nothing but picking cotton. Wondering if the new masters many blacks have chosen (government) is better or worse than their old master is not racism.

Indeed, maybe his problem is a lack of media training?

A few things. First, to take the quote at face value it’s odd and sounds offensive. You’re talking about government overreach and you go into this story? Secondly, I hope no one is surprised that an old man rancher isn’t media trained to express himself perfectly. He seems to be decrying what big government has done to the black family — which big government has negatively affected not just the black family, but all families regardless of ethnicity — so perhaps he included that in his remarks against big government?


There’s also the theory that he didn’t say it at all (the NYT would certainly just make it up, right?) or that there’s some kind of Alynskite maneuver to discredit him by taking the focus off the real issue (government overreach! The illegality of the US owning land without buildings on it! Bundyfest!)

Maybe It Was Just Clumsy Speech?

When we saw Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson, 67 years old, asked about black people he said this:

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person," Robertson is quoted in GQ. "Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

While Robertson’s detractors found this racist (he wasn’t talking about slavery, but rather the time of Jim Crow laws) he was widely defended by a swath of the Republican base—either for the right to speak his mind—or his (clumsy) adoption of Republican talking points on race.

Those Republican talking points? They are:

  1. Democratic liberal policies have systematically failed black people by placing them in a sort of crippling cocoon of welfare that creates a culture of poverty.
  2. Democratic ‘soft racism’ promotes at best mediocrity for the majority of black people because the hidden truth is that liberals feel black people cannot compete on their own. It also creates a ‘black elite’ who are championed by the media and the Democrats and act as thought-leaders to influence black people away from Republican ideas which would place them back on even-footing.

If you believe the above aren’t pretty much the platform, you can do some research. The GOP platform is NOT in favor of a return to Jim Crow laws (unless you count voter Id laws) and does NOT condone slavery (unless you count that CPAC guy a few years ago suggesting slaves oughta be grateful to their masters—and NOT getting shouted down by the CPAC audience)—but the position that liberal polices sound nice but actually hold black people back and make them dependent and unhappy is, for the GOP base, canonical.

And, we should note, it isn’t just republicans who feel that Obama has failed black people:

The poverty rate for blacks sharply increased, rising from 12 percent in 2008 to 16.1 percent Wednesday. Median income declined by 3.6 percent for white households to $58,000, but fell 10.9 percent to $33,500 for black households, Census Bureau figures show.

"The data is going to indicate sadly that when the Obama administration is over, black people will have lost ground in every single leading economic indicator category," Tavis Smiley, a black radio talk-show host, said on Fox News in October. "On that regard, the president ought to be held responsible."

The Racist Signifier: Interracial Marriage

The problem is that when you have someone like Bundy—who was a brave, virtuous poster-boy for anti-Federal Government activism yesterday—say stuff about slaves picking cotton (as maybe an improvement over modern day) it’s hard to tell if he’s misspeaking—or is actually exposing racist sentiments. There’s no way to look inside his heart so we have to look for the nearest signifier. The closest thing we have to a signifier for racism today is opposition to interracial marriage. Unlike Same-Sex-Marriage, the only objection here is the color of the skin of the two people involved.

Both Bundy and Duck Dynasty’s Robertson are in their late 60’s (68 for Bundy, 67 for Robertson) which puts them in what Pew calls “The Silent Generation” (1940 to early 1960’s). Both of them are white. Both of them are conservative.

Here’s how the Silent Generation feels about interracial marriage:


Only 37% agree that it’s completely okay for whites and blacks to date each other (76% mostly agree). These aren’t big numbers—but look at the trends for younger people—that’s a steep drop-off. How does that break down by ideology? Gallup found a 17% difference between liberals and conservatives in their 2011 survey.

Gallup % is Okay For Blacks & Whites To Marry

So it looks like, mathematically speaking, older people and, specifically, older conservatives, are more likely to disapprove of a marriage for racial reasons.

If a person in that demographic is speaking “clumsily” about race? There’s a statistically significant chance they are more likely to also disapprove of interracial marriage which would make their positions a lot more suspect. It might be a good idea for their supporters to try to get a sense of where a person stands on this before deciding to stand with them …

The Real Problem: Brand Damage—Contagion

What now is that Rand Paul is probably kicking himself for sticking up for the guy a few days ago (he’s said he completely disagrees with his take on race). Also what now is that his former defenders are likely to be a lot warier of being seen with him. The problem with the race-card isn’t that it doesn’t work—it’s that it works really really well when it sticks.

The problem is that hundreds of commenters are still defending him in conservative outlets where this has been reported. When he was promoted to “icon” status he gained power and mind-share as the ‘face’ of the position. When he becomes toxic, he risks passing that contagion to his former supporters (like Rand Paul). When he is still actively and avidly defended on conservative blogs it makes it look like the GOP base really does side with them.

The above stats don’t help that: statistically, the GOP base is more likely to “side with him”—and in the worst possible way. When you put someone in the spotlight and make them a leader of the movement that scrutiny comes with good and bad. In this case? Bundy is a toxin that was swallowed whole and the base’s position is still not fully able to ‘cough him up’ yet.

NOTE: Cliven on Alex Jones denies having said “picking cotton” as a specific statement. If, in fact, the NYT did make the quote up that changes everything of course. That specific turn of phrase was particularly bad and colors things in a poor light. If that was added that’s a pretty bad ‘edit.’ Annnnd … it’s not an ‘edit’—He’s on YouTube:

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