23 April 2014


Today the news is Adam Nogourney's New York Times article A Defiant Rancher Savors the Audience That Rallied to His Side about Cliven Bundy.

The whole thing is worth reading, but here's the money quote. (And you can see it on video. And there are more quotes, of course.)

He said he would continue holding a daily news conference; on Saturday, it drew one reporter and one photographer, so Mr. Bundy used the time to officiate at what was in effect a town meeting with supporters, discussing, in a long, loping discourse, the prevalence of abortion, the abuses of welfare and his views on race.

“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.”

Update: In a follow-up interview on CNN defending this statement, he said:

You know when you talk about prejudice, we're talking about not being able to exercise what we think and our feelings. We're not freedom — we don't have freedom to say what we want. If I call — if I say “negro” or “black boy” or “slave,” I'm — If those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive, then Martin Luther King hasn't got his job done yet. They should be able to — I should be able to say those things and they shouldn't offend anybody.
I don't even know how to talk about these ethnic groups.

Interviewer: Then don't.

But I'm going to because I'm interested in those people. I think they should have freedom and liberty.

I'll leave it to others to elaborate on how unsurprising his rank, racist bigotry is ... and how comfortable he felt in expressing it ... and how that bigotry connects to the “Patriot” movement which has rallied to his side and whose language he has used, to American conservatism at large, and to the whole American project.

Instead, as someone attentive to American political language, I want to seize on the way he uses the word “freedom”. The way he says that Black slavery was freedom.

Do not lose yourself in bafflement. Do not lose yourself in disgust.


Take it as a kōan, a mystery story, a riddle on which you may meditate. Read it again and again. Remind yourself of it every day. Make it a part of you. What does the word “freedom” mean to Cliven Bundy?

Think of him every time you hear Americans talking about “freedom”.

He is not alone. He spoke those words expecting us to understand, and to accept, and to regard them as insight.

He speaks for many Americans who love America because of American “freedom”.

Learn their scent.

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