Cliven Bundy: Racism entwined with government antipathy

April 28, 2014

Conservatives would like us to believe that hatred of government and racism are totally separate phenomena. That one has nothing to do with the other. They’re wrong.

Resentment of the federal government and racism have gone hand-in-hand in the United States for 200 years. In the 19th century, Democrats were the anti-government party. That was the legacy of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson.  Southern slave owners embraced the Democratic Party because they feared the federal government would take away their property without compensation. And it did.

Southerners rallied to the cause of “states’ rights” because it meant the preservation of slavery. Later, that morphed into segregation.

Of course, resentment of government is not limited to racists. It has deep roots in U.S. history. The Europeans who first settled the United States came here seeking either economic or religious freedom. As the late sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset put it, the United States was populated by “runaways from authority.” They were escaping the authority of oppressive governments and established churches.

The belief in limited government is enshrined in our Constitution. That’s why Tea Party activists worship the Constitution. The first founding document — the Articles of Confederation (1781) — provided for a federal government that was so weak, it had to be thrown out and replaced by the Constitution in 1789.

That’s why gun rights are written into the Constitution and held in reverence by gun activists.  They see guns as their ultimate protection from the abusive power of government. Which is how they were used by the Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and his armed militia of supporters when the federal government tried to seize his livestock.

Conservative radio host Sean Hannity tried during his broadcast to separate the “legitimate” issue of government overreach from racism. “People for the right reasons who saw this case as government overreach,” Hannity told his listeners, “now are branded because of the ignorant, racist, repugnant, despicable comments of Cliven Bundy.”

Conservative commentator Crystal Wright labeled Bundy’s comments “racial missteps.”  Texas Governor Rick Perry called them a “side story” to the real story — an abusive federal land grab.

Today, the Republican Party is the anti-government party. Therefore, it has inherited the same support from racists that Democrats used to have.

The coalition created by President Ronald Reagan brought together a variety of interests united by one thing: resentment of big government. The coalition included middle-class voters attracted by low taxes. It included business interests that favored deregulation. It included religious conservatives who opposed judicial activism. It included men who tended to favor risk-taking over a government-provided safety net. It included gun owners who feared that the federal government would take their guns away.

Regan’s supporters also included white voters who were motivated by racial fear and resentment. They were one of the earliest constituencies in this new Republican coalition. Racists were almost all Senator Barry M. Goldwater had in 1964, after the Democrats embraced civil rights. They were the key to President Richard M. Nixon’s “Southern strategy” win in the 1970s. Racial backlash voters oppose an activist federal government because they want to protect their interests against what they regard as black encroachment.

Consider this fact: Nixon’s worst state in 1968 was Mississippi, where he got 14 percent of the vote. George Wallace got 63.5 percent. Nixon’s best state in 1972 was Mississippi, where he got 78 percent of the vote. Add the 1968 Nixon and Wallace votes and you get the 1972 Nixon vote. Racists were simply folded into the Republican coalition.

African-Americans have little resentment of a federal government that rescued them twice from intolerable conditions — from slavery in the 1860s and from segregation in the 1960s. The anti-government movements of the past 50 years have isolated African-American voters from the rest of the electorate. Democrats are identified with government, and since 1964, no other group — not even self-described Democrats and liberals — has voted as solidly or as consistently Democratic as African-Americans.

Bundy expressed puzzlement that so few minorities are part of the right-wing revolt against big government. “If they’re not with us,” Bundy declared, “they’re going to be against us.”

He’s right.  They are.

Bundy’s explanation?  Same as the explanation that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered in 2012 about the “47 percent” who are “dependent on government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name it.” Bundy said, “Are they better off being slaves? . . . Or better off being slaves to the United States government, in the sense of the subsidies, I’m wondering.”

Since 1976, the National Opinion Research Center has asked people how they feel about government: Is Washington trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and private businesses? Or should the government do even more to solve the country’s problems? The question has nothing to do with race. But the answers do.

While Americans of both races became more critical of government during the 1980s, blacks were always twice as likely as whites to favor the principle of activist government. Bundy represents the most extreme position on this.  “I don’t recognize the United States government as even existing,” he has said.

The division in opinion over government helps explain two seemingly contradictory trends in American politics. On the one hand, there has been a steady decline in racial bigotry. On the other hand, racial division in U.S. politics has grown wider. African-American voters remain overwhelmingly Democratic while whites have become more and more Republican.

The race issue in this country is inextricably linked to the issue of big government. It always has been.


PHOTO (TOP): Rancher Cliven Bundy poses at his home in Bunkerville, Nevada, April 11, 2014. REUTERS/Jim Urquhart

PHOTO (INSERT 1): President Ronald Reagan, waving to well-wishers on the south lawn of the White House, April 25, 1986. REUTERS/Joe Marquette

PHOTO (INSERT 2): President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King Jr. in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Washington, March 18.1966. LBJ PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY/Yoichi Okamoto


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The Democrats used to have the southern bigots. Beginning in the 1970’s (in the elections after the Civil Rights Act), the Republicans adopted the bigots. Now the GOP is infested with bigots. It’s not just race, it’s anti-gay, anti-choice, anti-pot. Anti-anyone-under-40-and-climbing.

What had been the party of Wall Street has become a doomed marriage with the bad guys on Porky’s. Bigots with hidden vice will always fall the hardest. GOP is doomed. Told you so, 30 years ago.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Democrats lost the South the day Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.

Posted by CMEBARK | Report as abusive

I wonder if the author realizes his first paragraph and his fourth paragraph contradict each other….first he says that racism and hatred of big government can’t be separated then he says oh yeah…some people who aren’t racists also resent government…so which is it…can they be separate or not?

Posted by dcayman | Report as abusive

At dcayman, show me a tea party person who is not racist, and I’ll show you a person who is just very practiced at hiding it. Here in Idaho, I have private conversations with those people every day (at work, at schools, at church, at bars), and they are definitely racist.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The whole premise behind this argument is ridiculous. That racism and anti-BIG Government sentiments are inherently intertwined. The author postulates that, since the Feds ended slavery and passed the CRA, that it has a moral imperative to help minorities. Let us not forget, this same government declared all slaves to be “3/5ths” of a person each. This is the government that gave us the Dred Scott decision, as well as Plessy v. Ferguson. A government with the power to give you rights can just as easily take them away.

Posted by katzn | Report as abusive

Maybe I’m the exception, but I’m Southern, mostly vote Democrat, and having seen violent racism up-close and personal, abhor it. But here is the kicker: I’m really not a fan of having a large federal government. Things like pollution, money, airwaves, and criminals that actually cross state lines, yeah that needs somebody to coordinate between states. I’m OK with buying some groceries and medicine to promote the general welfare, and paying for common defense (emphasis on defense, not trying to solve the whole world’s problems). But with plenty of exceptions, for the rest of what the Federal Government does, I agree with the Tea Party. Slowly and carefully shut it down starting with the TSA, NSA, and DHS. If the big money hadn’t stuck “no regulation” into the Tea Pary platform, and they weren’t such a bunch of hateful racist, I would side with them.

Posted by diluded0000 | Report as abusive

Let’s face the fact: The GOP/TP got ALL the racists when Obama ran the first time. Bundy is just another one of them.

Posted by SunnyDaySam | Report as abusive

“Conservatives would like us to believe that hatred of government and racism are totally separate phenomena. That one has nothing to do with the other. They’re wrong.” – What poor quality journalism.

Posted by onlyif | Report as abusive

One more thing..What % of the black population voted for Obama.. 95% plus… But no, that’s not racism. That’s empowerment.

Imagine if white people voted like that… They’d all be evil racists.

The double standards are breathtaking. I’d hate to be one of those anti-racist double-speak types in another decades. Talk about persona non grata.

Posted by onlyif | Report as abusive

more ridiculous lies spewing from liberals. as one of the poster’s stated, can you imagine what the media would have said if 95% of the white vote went to Romney? Unfortunately, I voted for Obama in 2008, with some uneasy feelings of mistrust. I should have trusted my feelings about that liar, racist failure of a president. I am so sick of hearing about racism…you are beating it to death…that’s your MO. Never in my life, not even in the 60s, did i hear so many accusations of racism…Racism runs rampant in the Black, Hispanic, and Asian populations against whites.

Posted by bwall49 | Report as abusive

Reading the comments makes it clear that the GOP efforts to de-fund education in America is certainly working.

Posted by edgyinchina | Report as abusive

And when avowed liberal Donald Sterling makes far more racist comments than Bundy (listen to the entire Bundy interview to get the full context) it does what to this argument? I mean other than completely strip the author of anything resembling objective reporting. I don’t know what is more surprising, that I am wasting time responding to such an article or that Reuters posted it on their front page. Oh, and I am not a member of the Tea Party or the Republican Party. I am just someone sick and tired of the political rhetoric found in our supposed news.

Posted by fjsense | Report as abusive

Shame on you Reuters for allowing this kind of inflammatory bs to be printed. Your credibility as a source of quality info/ideas has been severely compromised.

Mr. Schneider why are you promoting such a divisive and inflammatory position? Are you one of those who are fanning flames of hatred to secure your own ratings? I think so. This kind of “journalism” is a disgrace to this country. You are part of the problem.

Posted by bbwyo | Report as abusive

Is the author suggesting that racism is exclusive to whites? It would have been better to declare that racism affects both sides of the entitlement question. It might have been more interesting to contrast support for entitlements – is there a race divide there in either recipient or support for funding? Of course, one can also argue cause and effect – would blacks be as racist (as many are) if it were not for white racism? Difficult to pen such an op/ed without more research and thought. I commend the author’s attempt, but not the end product.

Posted by CliffVegas | Report as abusive

The Sovereign Citizen philosophy and its followers are dangerous. The ‘Sovereign Citizens’ Movement Sovereign citizens, who believe that they do not have to obey most federal and state laws, have been a particular danger to law enforcement officials because of their belief that the government has no authority to require driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations. In May 2010, two so-called sovereigns murdered two police officers ( e-and-extremism/law-enforcement)and badly wounded two more in the latest such violence.

Sitting back and waiting to see what crazy Sovereign citizen act will inspire an incident next is definitely not a good policy. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of strange ideas. There are people in Pakistan who don’t want a little girl to go to school even if her mother and father agree that she should have an education and they are willing to shoot her in the face to stop her and there are people in this country who want the government to tell people they cannot get married to each other but don’t want that same government to tell people that they have to pay fees to use public land to feed their private cattle. People with some really strange ideas out there, who don’t like the idea that there is a strong Federal Government that can keep them and other people from acting out those really strange ideas against people who have rights that cannot be taken away and a strong Federal Government that can require people to meet their responsibilities and not just ignore them.
The personnel of the armed forces of the United States of America and the American people need to understand what is really going on with these militias and anti-American government groups.

This briefing is based, in part on the research of hate group expert Daniel Levitas, who spent eight years in the Midwest researching and developing community responses to the Posse Comitatus, the Christian Identity movement and other hate groups attempting to recruit farmers and rural residents in the 1980s. He has worked with several research and watchdog organizations, served as an expert witness in state and federal courts and published extensively in his field. Please see the Southern Poverty Law Center for the complete research documentation.

Posted by USAPostman | Report as abusive

Racism is a business ladies and gentleman. It puts money in the pockets of the activists. To quote Booker T. Washington, “There is a class of colored people who make a business of keeping the troubles, the wrongs, and the hardships of the Negro race before the public. Some of these people do not want the Negro to lose his grievances, because they do not want to lose their jobs. There is a certain class of race-problem solvers who don’t want the patient to get well.”

Al Sharpton has made his living off of keeping racial tensions high. Every time a young black male is shot by a white male, it inevitably leads to race. Every time a jury convicts a young black male of a crime, it is a racist jury. Every time someone says something against the President, it is because they are racist.

The truth is, the media, is the greatest outlet for keeping racial tensions high. Every time they show a news story about a break in or a robbery, they show a photo of a black male in an orange jump suit.

Every time a white rich man makes a comment about the entitlement mentality of some, the news turns it into a scandal.

The fact of the matter is racism is alive, but not as prominent as these people want to make you believe. If it were, President Obama would NOT have been elected twice to the highest office in this country.

Every government program that has been passed, has been used to herd, and control the black community.

They herded the poor black community into government assisted housing, offered them a way to feed their families, while at the same time, cutting funding to education in those same communities. While they say, it was to help the African-American community, it was clearly a way to control, and convince them that Government would help them.

“I’ll have those n!@#$%^ voting Democratic for the next 200 years.” —Lyndon B. Johnson to two governors on Air Force One –

“These Negroes, they’re getting pretty uppity these days and that’s a problem for us since they’ve got something now they never had before, the political pull to back up their uppityness. Now we’ve got to do something about this, we’ve got to give them a little something, just enough to quiet them down, not enough to make a difference.”—LBJ

These quotes are usually forgotten when people talk highly about the Civil Rights Act. That act was nothing more then a way to silence the ever growing unrest that was going on, and the black community had every right to. They were treated like dogs, killed for stepping out of their communities, and arrested for whatever reason the local government could come up with.

Cliven Bundy’s comments were not completely told and the video was edited to make sure that he LOOKED racist.

Posted by DavidHarris1968 | Report as abusive

If the tea party is not racist (and they just hate government intrusion and foreign entanglement and deficit spending)…. then where were they during the Bush years? Seriously. Where? That’s the basic bit of chronology they have not been able to answer.

What many so-called anti-fed folks will not admit to now (but they actually did it)…. was vote for Bush TWICE. The second time was after the Patriot Act got signed and Homeland Security department was formed and government was grown, and after the Iraq boondoggle and after deficit spending increased. They voted for Bush…. AGAIN!

Tea Party can say what they want, but their actions speak louder than words. They only started hollering and organizing when a black man got behind the wheel. That, they can not dispute.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Yes, only Washington DC politicians and Bureacrats can save us. We’re all just too stupid to realize it. They care, that’s why. They care so much that they do everything they can to stay in DC and be the 1% (ot close to it) and live as far away from the rest of us that they so desperately and furiously wish to help.

Posted by Mike6514 | Report as abusive

Dang the comments from all but one “conservative” on this site verbally condemn and in the same breath completely support, with irrefutable evidence, the position of the author. It would be funny if it weren’t soooo sad.

Posted by LongwayDown | Report as abusive

is he related to Al Bundy..?

Posted by rikfre | Report as abusive

Racism, like other so-called divisive issues, is cleverly used by entrenched powers to keep the poor and middle class whites voting against their own best interests.

I lived in the South throughout the civil rights era, and the most rabid racists were poor whites who were also victims of underfunded public schools, lack of healthcare, and poor nutrition. Unions were kept out of the South by factory owners with the threat of black workers replacing whites.

Instead of politicians talking about real issues: education, health, food, jobs, and environment, the constant chatter on Fox News and other extremist right wing venues is about gun rights, rights of the unborn, rights of corporations, rights of the wealthy to buy government, rights to practice religion, and of course the ongoing threat of Jihadist terrorists determined to ruin Christian America.

The poor and middle class white is the US latch onto racism thinking it is the one way to protect the little they have. Divide and conquer. That’s exactly what the super rich have done to poor and middle class. Find issues to divide the unfortunate so that they never will see who the real enemy is, and who is profiting from their underpaid labor.

Posted by Acetracy | Report as abusive