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Guess What, Cliven Bundy? Your Nevada Ranch Is Also Getting a ‘Government Subsidy’

George Frey/Getty Images
George Frey/Getty Images

Nowadays, we get treated to someone’s half-baked revisionist take on slavery so regularly that it’s hard to get worked up anymore when, let’s say, Arizona Republican congressional candidate Jim Brown writes on his Facebook page that “Basically slave owners took pretty good care of their slaves,” or when potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson calls Obamacare “the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.”


Politicians and pundits, you see, have really played the slavery card out.

So after reading Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy’s ranging soliloquy on “the Negro,” you’ll have to forgive me for thinking, this time around, that when he opted to play the slavery card, it was actually only the second most ludicrous thing that he said.


And here—reports the New York Times’ Adam Nagourney—is some of what he said:

“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.”

Put aside, for a moment, the fact that he’s apparently weighing the relative merits of human bondage. What’s also galling is that Bundy’s a guy currently involved in an armed standoff with law enforcement over his unpaid use of federal land to graze his cattle, and he’s the one referring to “the Negro” being “on government subsidy.”

To say the least, it’s an ill-considered riff that puts the vintage, now almost quaint, Tea Party rallying cry, “keep your government hands off my Medicare,” to shame.


Bundy, of course, is the beneficiary of a huge subsidy—making a living, in part, off of cattle ranching on federal land, while refusing to pay over a million dollars in grazing fees, being in arrears, and then threatening to shoot federal agents after they first took him to court, then couldn’t collect and then tried to repo the cattle, which, I’ll just add one more time, were on federal land.

Even the most stalwart defenders of the rancher’s cause, like Powerline’s John Hinderaker, have conceded that “legally, Bundy doesn’t have a leg to stand on.” And even the most ardent opponents of government assistance would concede—whether it’s the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s SNAP program, providing food stamps that help families make ends meet, or the USDA’s MILC program, which creates price supports that let dairy farmers keep the price of milk artificially high—that at least most government beneficiaries are getting their benefits legally.


By contrast, Bundy took his at the point of a gun.

In light of that, Republicans, like Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, who initially defended Bundy’s cause, and Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who initially described Bundy and his armed supporters as “patriots,” might want to reconsider their public support for the rancher. Not just because of his views about slavery, but also because Bundy’s rant about “subsidies”—while he simultaneously pockets a tidy sum that every other rancher on government land has to pay—makes a farce of the GOP’s basic argument that the social safety net is too big.


Compared to most folks getting benefits, his safety net is a pretty comfy hammock.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.

David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter

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