Friday, April 18, 2014


I appreciate the unqualified contempt Timothy Egan expresses in this New York Times op-ed about the Bundy Ranch standoff -- but I think the analogy with which he opens the piece is a bit off base:
Imagine a vendor on the National Mall, selling burgers and dogs, who hasn't paid his rent in 20 years. He refuses to recognize his landlord, the National Park Service, as a legitimate authority. Every court has ruled against him, and fines have piled up. What's more, the effluents from his food cart are having a detrimental effect on the spring grass in the capital.

Would an armed posse come to his defense, aiming their guns at the park police? Would the lawbreaker get prime airtime on Fox News, breathless updates in the Drudge Report, a sympathetic ear from Tea Party Republicans? No, of course not.

So what's the difference between the fictional loser and Cliven Bundy, the rancher in Nevada who owes the government about $1 million and has been grazing his cattle on public land for more than 20 years? Near as I can tell, one wears a cowboy hat. Easterners, especially clueless ones in politics and the press, have always had a soft spot for a defiant white dude in a Stetson.
That last line is pretty much dead-on. (I might qualify it and say that the Midwesterner-turned-Easterner who runs Fox News assumes, probably correctly, that his exurban audience has a soft spot -- or maybe "collective mancrush" would be closer to the mark -- for those Stetson-wearing bad boys.) But I think Egan is too quick to assume that there'd never be a posse of armed defenders for a National Mall vendor.

The vendor would have to be the right kind of Real American -- maybe a "Hanoi Jane"-hating 'Nam vet who doesn't believe Obama's birth certificate and who thinks Allen West and Donald Trump would make a hell of a 2016 ticket. Maybe he'd claim to have gotten on the wrong side of some real or imagined quota system (he'd have to be white, of course), or maybe he'd just claim that Evil Obama and Holder were trying to shut him down because of all the "pro-freedom" bumper stickers on his pushcart. Could I imagine Fox News doing a hundred segments on this guy? Could I imagine a crew of belligerent malcontents daring the cops to remove his cart from the Mall, even though he wasn't fulfilling the requirements for a vendor? Sure I could.

We know that Fox doesn't care about the letter of the law if someone's case for special treatment seems emotionally correct to the Fox audience. Recall the 11-year-old girl who was initially denied the right to sell mistletoe at a Portland mall last Christmas. It didn't matter that other vendors there had gone through an application process for the limited vendor spots -- this girl was selling mistletoe, for heaven's sake (War on Christmas!), and she had a Fox-worthy story about how she wanted to work rather than beg, so Megyn Kelly, among others in the right-wing media, made her a victim. In the end, she got special dispensation to sell her mistletoe.

To the right, the law doesn't determine who's allowed to do what. The deserving are the people right-wingers feel are the deserving. There's a higher law, and only True Patriota know what it is.


Victor said...

And especially if that Vet served in Bush's and Cheney's wars and occupations, played Nugent at ear-damaging levels at his food-stand, and sold unhealthy killer foods, like hot dogs, and deep-fried hamburgers, and 128 oz big-gulps of Mountain Dew - and, for dessert, deep fried Snickers bars, coated with Cheetos dust, and dipped in flour and some more milk chocolate!!!!!!!

Carol Ann said...

Argh, Victor. Sounds like the restaurants in Maine.

Victor said...

That's about as disgusting a menu as I could think of - for someone like me, a lover of simple hot dogs and hamburgers.

aimai said...

Still I don't think it was wrong of him to lead off this way because the one thing the average supporter of Bundy can't admit is that, deep down, of course they believe there is one law for sympathetic criminals and another for unattractive/black/unsympathetic criminals. So he was right to state the case so baldly and stripped of class, race, and age identifiers because his readers, even a potential Fox reader, can't admit to his own discriminatory approach to the law.

Ken_L said...

Argument by analogy is always risky. Too often people seek refuge in the hypothetical to avoid the issues of principle. In this instance we should be focusing squarely on what actually happened and the principles involved. Conservatives should be forced as much as possible to state whether or not they favour armed resistance by citizens' militias to properly-authorised enforcement of the nation's laws. Anything that distracts from that conversation should be avoided, no matter how nice of a debating point it might seem in the abstract.