Here comes Cliven Bundy, who looked like a 21st-century Paul Revere as he ran about his Nevada ranch shouting the feds are coming, the feds are coming, successfully arousing others who joined him in standing up to a mighty force that backed down in some of its overkill. Is he a hero, then? No, but stay tuned.
He’s not a hero because, as others note, he is disobeying the law by not paying federal fees for use of land he says does not belong to the federal government. It does belong to the federal government. What’s more, armed militia members were part of a protest on Mr. Bundy’s behalf, and that disgusts me. I abhor the whole militia idea. Please keep those guys away.
It can also be said, however, that Mr. Bundy has pointed a finger at real wrongs, including the government’s own refusal to obey the law. I would even say his situation bears some slight resemblance to issues the colonists confronted when the British Empire said, look, the French and Indian War cost a lot of money, you Americans need to pay more and we’re not waiting for Paul Revere or anyone else to volunteer his cash.
Remember that the British encouraged development in the colonies and afforded settlers a sometimes spotty but relatively high degree of self-government. Then, in the late 18th century as its coffers were beginning to look embarrassingly bare, the Brits started throwing some heavy taxes at colonists who had no parliamentary representatives. When they protested too vehemently, the British officials clamped down on their liberties. It was like first saying you are mostly free, then that you are a lot less free and finally that you haven’t seen anything yet, all of which led to the Declaration of Independence.
Similarly, as the lawyer-manned Power Line blog site tells us, the federal government in the 19th century said, hey, we’d like some ranching in Nevada and guess what: We’ll let your cattle graze for free on federal land. Mr. Bundy’s forebears arrived in the 1870s and all went well. Then, much later, something else came along, the Bureau of Land Management, which eventually got cozy with radical environmentalists as it started implementing rules that gave cows less grazing space and fees that cost scads of ranchers their ranches. Mr. Bundy, wanting to keep his, has said no to the fees since 1993.
The bureau, which aims to protect the desert tortoise even as it encourages Nevada solar power projects that endanger the desert tortoise, recently decided it wasn’t going to stand for this. It sent rangers out to round up Mr. Bundy’s cattle along with armed officers to surround the ranch. It restricted protesters to a narrow free-speech zone. Ex-Judge Andrew Napolitano, a positive force for rule of law, has pointed out on TV that the government reaction was “draconian, authoritarian” and that parts of it were illegal. There is at least this to be said. The government stopped short of a tragic travesty that could have resembled the 1993 horror in Waco, Texas, when four federal agents and 82 men, women and children belonging to a religious cult were killed. The bureau let the cattle go. It retreated for the time being.
The message to the nation of all of this? Namely that the federal government is here, there and everywhere, is always expanding its reach, intrudes much, much too much, limits opportunity even as it preaches opportunity and itself is ever more lax about heeding the law. When President Barack Obama shrugs his shoulders at constitutional restrictions, what example exactly is he setting? I suggest that in the midterm 2014 elections, we have a voting booth uprising favoring candidates who believe in adherence to law and governmental limits.
Jay Ambrose is a columnist for McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (www. speaktojayaol.com).