I said yesterday, on my blog that we were going to look at the confrontation between Cliven Bundy and the BLM today, and we are. But first I want you to read Victor Davis Hanson on it, so here it is:
Works and Days » Cliven Bundy and The Rural Way
I’m sure that Cliven Bundy probably could have cut a deal with the Bureau of Land Management and should have. Of course, it’s never wise to let a federal court order hang over your head. And certainly we cannot have a world of Cliven Bundys if a legal system is to function.
So Mr. Bundy must realize that in about 1990 we decided to focus on the misdemeanor of the law-abiding citizen and to ignore the felony of the lawbreaker. The former gave law enforcement respect; the latter ignored their authority. The first made or at least did not cost enforcers money; arresting the second began a money-losing odyssey of incarceration, trials, lawyers, appeals, and all the rest.
Mr. Bundy knows that the bullies of the BLM would much rather send a SWAT team after him than after 50 illegal aliens being smuggled by a gun-toting cartel across the southwestern desert. How strange, then, at this late postmodern date, for someone like Bundy on his horse still to be playing the law-breaking maverick Jack Burns (Kirk Douglas) in (the David Miller, Dalton Trumbo, Edward Abbey effort) Lonely Are the Brave.
But the interest in Mr. Bundy’s case is not about legal strategies in revolving fiscal disagreements with the federal government.
Instead, we all have followed Mr. Bundy for three reasons.
One, he called attention to the frightening fact that the federal government owns 83% of the land in Nevada. Note that “federal” and “government” are the key words and yet are abstractions. Rather, a few thousands unelected employees — in the BLM, EPA, Defense Department, and other alphabet soup agencies — can pretty much do what they want on the land they control. And note, this is not quite the case in Silicon Valley or Manhattan or Laguna Beach. The danger can be summed up by a scene I see about once a month on a Fresno freeway: a decrepit truck stopped by the California Highway Patrol for having inadequate tarps on a trailer of green clippings, just as a new city garbage truck speeds by, with wet garbage flying over the median. Who will police the police?
Two, this administration has a long record of not following the law — picking and choosing when and how to enforce immigration statutes, depending on the particular dynamics of the next election; picking and choosing which elements of Obamacare to enforce, again depending on perceived political advantage; and picking and choosing when to go after coal companies, or when not to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act, or when to reverse the order of the Chrysler creditors, or when to allow Lois Lerner to destroy the credibility of the IRS for partisan advantage.
In other words, the Obama administration regularly breaks the law as it sees fit. So we wonder why a federal agency sends out swarms of armed security agents to the empty desert on behalf of a tortoise, when it could just as easily storm Jay Carney’s press conference and demand that the president promise to enforce the Affordable Care Act. Or start apprehending those who are not just violating immigration law, but also serially signing false federal affidavits or providing employers with fraudulent identities.
And that’s the real story here, isn’t it? Cliven Bundy is the old American ideal, doing what he has to do to earn a living in a hard world, asking neither for our help nor tolerating our intrusion. He may be wrong legally (by all accounts he is) but by Anglo-American history he is very nearly the ideal. A man who completely understands what Augustine of Hippo meant when he said, “An unjust law is no law at all”. I can’t speak for you, but I was raised to be a moral, upright, and just man, and so was Cliven Bundy. Crusty and hard to get along with he may be but, he is a real man, as we have understood it since at least the time of Henry VIII.
Now let’s talk about the BLM and Bundy.
I’m not sure that I have heard anyone claim that Bundy is in the right, in court he’s going to lose, and badly but that is not why he got so much sympathy. He got that sympathy mostly from people who believe deeply in the Rule of Law and he got it because the government badly overstepped it proper role. Just like Parliament did in the run up to the revolution.
First, I’m old enough that I remember when we referred to the police as “peace officers,” their role was to protect the peace and fight crime, and to do it legally within the constitution, and they did it superlatively. In that context, the government would have gotten an order from the court and the sheriff would have gone out and done what was necessary, whether it was seizing the land and cattle, or arresting Mr. Bundy. It might have come down to an armed confrontation, or it might not have, either way it would be a local story and almost instantly forgotten.
But now, what we saw was a paramilitary federal force invading like an occupying power with armored vehicles, air support, snipers, and all the appurtenances of modern war, to effect a civil settlement. The means were far beyond the object, and people reacted as Americans always do, against the overreach of arbitrary government power, and so like in Lexington, 239 years before almost to the day, an opposition gathered. And like that day, the government caved, at least for the moment. I also suspect more than a few BLM agents wondered what they were doing there but, that’s another story. And parenthetically, so did the British Regulars on that day.
That’s one thing that must always be remembered, American are very jealous of our freedom, and even the appearance of infringing it brings an immediate reaction. I found it quite telling to see the pictures of the opposition, with not only the national colors flying but, also the colors of every armed service of the country. These were men that know what it is to fight for freedom, and are far better trained than paramilitary federal forces. In the old phrase that has come down from the Civil War, “They have seen the elephant”.
I have said before that America is very tense, right now, and it is. It feels very much like the prairie does before a big thunderstorm. If the government is wise, it will do whatever it must to reduce those tensions. Given the isolation of the government from the people, which is hardly less than that of Parliament was from the colonies, I have little hope of that.
And thus after a long detour we come back to Sen. Reid’s comment. I and many like me see Mr. Bundy as wrong on the issue but right to resist. In truth, we see the government as acting like an occupying power, and are beginning to think of the government as the enemy of the people.
It is hurtful to the peace of the realm when government officials attempt to make us “the other” because that status (and we know this) removes any liability for anything done to us, it also works in reverse, and that is inimical to peace.
What we really have here is the clash of cultures. One is the old traditional do-it-your-way, mostly rural America, where men are men, and not interested in your forced government charity. The other is the progressive nanny state, which looks a lot like France. This is the baseline battle in our culture, and on it depends the future of America, the free world, and liberty itself.
The real endangered specie here is not some tortoise,
it’s the American.
Kevin D. Williamson has a very good article at NRO on it as well]