Right-wing heroes spinning their wheels in shifting political sands
“The perennial political divide. Us versus Them. It was mean, ugly, and ultimately self-defeating for the people who bought it, but as we still see, when people feel discontented and insecure it often works.”
— Bill Clinton in “My Life”
It’s hell, sometimes, when your heroes turn out to have feet of clay. Especially when they seem right out of central casting, embodying all that you see right or wrong with the world.
We’ve had a couple of examples of that in recent days, perhaps the most prominent being Cliven Bundy. The Nevada rancher, to some, cut somewhat of a John Wayne figure as he defied the federal government over illegally grazing cattle near Mesquite. Not so much since his racist remarks surfaced last week.
Whether or not he continues to serve as a rallying point for those discontented with government and insecure about their place in a changing world remains to be seen, especially as prominent political figures beat a hasty exit from the Bundy bandwagon.
Bundy has paid, in the past, the very fees he now withholds and protests. The courts, the venue most of us would rely on to decide right or wrong, have consistently ruled against him, and he owes around $1 million in fees and penalties.
Supposed attempts to pay the fees to county and state governments, the entities he claims “own” the public land in question, have been rejected by both. His fellow ranchers in the Nevada Cattlemen’s Association have declined to get involved.
To many of those other folks, the ones not sprawled prone behind a concrete highway barrier with weapons pointed at federal officers or others wrapped up in their personal interpretations of the Constitution, Bundy is just a deadbeat enjoying an unfair financial advantage over competitors who abide by the rule of law rather than ignore it.
But, pretty clearly, the mess near Mesquite is not just about grazing fees.
It’s another symptom of the increasing tendency on all sides to pick and choose a set of “facts” to bolster an emotional and political argument. It’s also just one more example of a mindset of “aginners” whose philosophy is rooted in opposition and, in the absence of realistic solutions or majority political support, degenerates into “Us” versus “Them” theatrics.
Words like “patriot” are thrown around carelessly, applied selectively and bear little resemblance to the ideals behind them. The Constitution becomes a battleground of personal interpretations rather than a set of guiding principles for the application of the rule of law.
Militant lawbreakers are described as “heroes” even while aiming their firearms at those willing to risk their lives enforcing rules and regulations most of us feel are reasonable in a law-abiding society.
All that is taking its toll on the party of Abe Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
Rand Paul and Ted Cruz become the faces of the Republican Party, and Fox News becomes the messenger. Mitch McConnell and now John Boehner, political figures most of the country would describe as conservative, face tea party challenges.
Despite electoral losses, the “Purity Caucus” doubles down and insists on continuing to draw unwinnable lines in shifting political sands.
This isn’t happening only on the national scene or in a southern Nevada landscape that’d be only sparsely-populated, high-speed drive-by terrain sans a collection of hotels, casinos and golf courses.
Four years after a Colorado gubernatorial election in which the GOP narrowly escaped designation as a minority party, then-spoiler Tom Tancredo is the leader among four Republican candidates.
Scott Tipton, by any account a conservative who’s generally to the right of even Boehner and McConnell, still faces a primary from way out there on the edge. And I may not be the only one wondering just how soon events like the confrontation in Mesquite might play out here in Happy Valley if we actually elect a “constitutional sheriff.”
I’m under no illusion our politics will change enough to bring back Camelot to Washington or turn Mesa County into a Boulder. But it sure would be nice to be celebrating real heroes instead of Cliven Bundy and his ilk.
And perhaps to remember that our Founding Fathers talked about “We the People” rather than “Us” and “Them.”