It has been rather difficult to have any sympathy for Cliven Bundy after his statements made about African Americans and slavery. But while the Nevada rancher who seems to have recently won an armed stand off with the Federal government, isn’t the most likable guy, that isn’t really what the issue should be able. Whether he made racist, sexist, or homophobic, comments, Cliven Bundy’s argument should be judged on its legal merits. Instead, in the court of public opinion, and the media circus, his claims are being judged based upon whether or not he is a good, or likable, guy.
The story of Bundy’s stand-off with the Bureau of Land Management quickly took the nation by storm. At first, the mainstream media offered surprisingly little coverage of the stand-off. Hundreds of armed supporters of Bundy showed up to defend the man who they called “the last remaining rancher in Clark County, Nevada.”
The media and government appeared to be embarrassed that such a huge number of armed protestors had been mobilized through nothing other than social media networks in such a short period of time. If that was possible, then what else might be possible? The prospect of similar armed protests mobilizing seemed to worry the powers that be.
The national controversy over the issue of the private use of federal land has now become a major issue. The tide of public opinion has turned against Bundy almost overnight. For his part, Bundy has done very little to make himself defendable. In spite of this, the issue of his stand off with the Bureau of Land Management has raised an interesting point: in terms of his actual contentions with the Federal government… is Bundy actually right?
Answering that question would require us to actually know what Bundy’s claims actually are. Media pundit after pundit seem to be quick to tell us what Bundy’s contentions are. Meme images circulate throughout social media which reduce the issue to overly-simplistic terms. When it comes to his actual argument, however, Bundy says it all comes down to one simple point: “It’s Nevada land.”
That means that Bundy doesn’t believe that the land belongs to the Federal government. Why? The Nevada rancher says that based on the state constitution, Nevada alone can be the sole owner of such public lands. The Federal government cannot trump that constitutional claim with the passage of new laws. Based on that argument, Bundy explains, he doesn’t owe the Federal government a penny.
Whether we might agree with Bundy or not, whether we might happen to find the man despicable or not, we should not mischaracterize, nor ignore what his actual argument is. The issue is bigger than one racist rancher in Nevada. We should not allow Bundy’s personal stupidity and bigotry to allow us to lose focus and sight of the bigger and underlying issue.
The Nevada rancher explains that he has “no contract with the United States government,” and further that the federal government has “no jurisdiction or authority” as it relates to anything that “belongs to ‘we the people’ of Clark County.”
The issue all goes back to when Nevada became a state. At that time, the federal government did control the land of the territory of Nevada as a territory. Once the territory became a state, however, the Nevada constitution declared that all of the land became the sovereign claim of the of Nevada and no longer of the federal government.
“At the moment of statehood, what happened?” Bundy inquired. “At the moment of statehood the people of the territory become people of the United States with the Constitution, with equal footing to the original 13 states. They had boundaries allowing them a state line. And that boundary was divided into 17 subdivisions, which were counties. Which I live in one of those counties, Clark County, Nevada.”
“As a citizen of that county, I abide by all the state laws,” he added.
Is Bundy right or is he wrong? Answering that question is what we should be focused on, rather than our personal like or dislike for the man as an individual.
What we know for sure is that the claims circulating on social media as well as reports in the mainstream, corporate media, are straw man arguments. They claim that Bundy is asserting that he simply doesn’t have to pay “because his forefathers grazed there.” This is an argumentative fallacy. The polarized and extreme way that this contention has been framed is very different from what the man is claiming, regardless of the fact that Bundy might hold irrelevant and despicable views on other matters.
(Article by Jackson Marciana)