Uncivil Disobedience and the Opposite of Patriotism

Back when George W. Bush was president, liberals were regularly accused of being disloyal or anti-American if they disagreed with the policies the administration was undertaking. As Bush himself said, you were either with us or with the terrorists, and as far as many of his supporters were concerned, "us" meant the Bush administration and everything they wanted to do, including invading Iraq. You may have noticed that now that there's a Democrat in the White House, conservatives no longer find disagreeing with the government's policies to be anti-American; in fact, the truest patriotism is now supposedly found among those whose hatred of the president, and the government more generally, burns white-hot in the core of their souls.

We've gotten used to that over the last five years, but I've still been surprised at the conservative embrace of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who has been in an argument with the Bureau of Land Management over grazing fees. Briefly: for 20 years Bundy has been taking his cattle to graze on federal land, but he refuses to pay grazing fees as the law demands and as other ranchers do, despite numerous court orders. So the BLM seized some of his cattle, and in the ensuing standoff, hundreds of armed right-wing nuts came to Bundy's defense, trooping out to aim their weapons at federal employees.

I'm sure there are some conservatives who view this conflict in the clear, simple terms it deserves. This guy wants to use resources that don't belong to him without paying for them, which is what we generally refer to as "stealing." The reason he thinks he can do it is, as he put it in a radio interview, "I don't recognize the United States government as even existing." In other words, he isn't standing up for principle, he's a nut case.

And yet, prominent conservatives are not only rushing to his defense, they're casting him as a patriotic American. Here's part of an absolutely incredible column from The National Review's Kevin Williamson:

Of course the law is against Cliven Bundy. How could it be otherwise? The law was against Mohandas Gandhi, too, when he was tried for sedition; Mr. Gandhi himself habitually was among the first to acknowledge that fact, refusing to offer a defense in his sedition case and arguing that the judge had no choice but to resign, in protest of the perfectly legal injustice unfolding in his courtroom, or to sentence him to the harshest sentence possible, there being no extenuating circumstances for Mr. Gandhi's intentional violation of the law. Henry David Thoreau was happy to spend his time in jail, knowing that the law was against him, whatever side justice was on.

Yes, you read that right: he compares Cliven Bundy to Gandhi. And he ends with this stirring call:

Prudential measures do not solve questions of principle. So where does that leave us with our judgment of the Nevada insurrection? Perhaps with an understanding that while Mr. Bundy's stand should not be construed as a general template for civic action, it is nonetheless the case that, in measured doses, a little sedition is an excellent thing.

Williamson's boss, NR editor Rich Lowry, also said that Bundy's actions are "within the finest American tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau." Which just shows how little these people understand about civil disobedience, and about American traditions.

Civil disobedience means breaking a law, publicly and calmly, and then accepting the punishment the law provides, in order to draw attention to a law that is unjust and should be changed. The law Cliven Bundy is breaking says that if you graze your cattle on land owned by the federal government, you have to pay grazing fees. I haven't heard anyone articulate why that law is unjust. People are saying that the government owns too much land in Nevada, and maybe it does, but until the government sells it to you and you own it, you have to pay to use it. There isn't any fundamental question of human rights or even the reach of government in question here at all. Mr. Bundy also doesn't have the right to walk into the local BLM office and stuff all their staplers and pens into his knapsack and walk out.

Secondly, and just as important, there's nothing "civil" about Bundy's disobedience. If it was civil disobedience, he'd pay what he owes and then try, through the courts and public opinion, to change what he sees as these unjust grazing fees. But he hasn't done that. He just refused to pay, and then led a heavily-armed standoff with the government.

I'm sorry, but if you're defending Bundy, no matter how many times you toss the phrase "We the people" into what you say, you just have no clue about how democracy works. When you become a United States citizen, or when you take public office in America, you don't pledge to honor whatever particular notion you have of what this country ought to be. You pledge to uphold the Constitution. The whole point of democracy is, as John Adams put it, "a government of laws, not of men." The system embodies the will of the people and allows for change. When there's something about that system you don't like, you can't just shout "Tyranny!" and refuse to obey the laws. You work to change them through democratic means.

What Cliven Bundy and his supporters are doing is the opposite of patriotism. It isn't principled opposition to Barack Obama, or to the policies of the federal government; it's opposition to the American system of democracy itself. And the people who are defending him ought to be ashamed of themselves.


Once again waldman is a complete sell out to the progressive corrupt machine. In 20 years waldman won't own property. He of course will willingly give it to the government . A government that only looks out for waldmans interests. They will take care of us. "We live in a country of laws" like hell we do. Only when the laws suit his highness. Is Obama ignoring laws that aren't politically convenient for obamacare. Immigration laws, those laws aren't inconvenient also. Eric holder said so. The highest law enforcer on the land thinks ignoring these laws is best for our "...country of laws" you people are fools if you think this government is not our greatest threat to our national and personal security. While we watch the pathetic political dance between the parties they are bankrupting our country. Our security is nothing without our strong economy. What's the interest payment on 17,000,000,000,000? Neither party has the courage to make the necessary decisions to repair our country. We are on a sinking ship with a captain and crew are willing to to sink us. Wake up America . The enemy isn't the republicans, it's the government.

I don't really know how to respond to this rant. I have to agree that since 2001 both parties have made it glaringly obvious that the rule of law is a silly archaism, 9/11 changed everything, and while the incumbent President may not allow torture (we really don't know -- his administration is much better than Shrub's at keeping secrets, Snowden notwithstanding) -- they certainly will protect lawbreakers when they feel like doing so. We still have to try to restore the rule of law. Bundy is breaking the law. He's stealing. He's getting something for nothing. I really wish Obama had mobilized one Regular Army battalion of infantry and used them to escort Federal Marshalls to arrest that jerk and his sons and any dimwit who pointed a gun at them. I do not know what they plan on doing, but simply allowing Bundy to graze his cattle at public expense is intolerable. Aside from that I just don't know what the commenter is raving about. Interest on 17,000,000,000,000? What does that have to do with anything?

What the libs don't understand is government over reach.
Bundy has been there for 136 years. Way before the BLM was a twinkle in Obama's eye. The BLM punks are the ones that started this by body slamming a cancer victim from behind, setting a dog on a pregnant woman and tasering Ammon Bundy over and over.
Where they screwed up is doing it on camera.
That's when people started showing up. The BLM had 200 soldiers...SOLDIERS!
The BLM killing cattle and slash and burning the infrastructure the Bundys had set up over 136 years is Ok with you?
It's never Ok to destroy a water well in the desert. Much less to destroy as many as you possibly can. What the hell is that poor little tortoise supposed to drink?
The protesters pointed their weapons at no one. The sniper on the overpass was a plant. Eric Parker from central Idaho doesn’t exist except as a spook. If people would take a closer look at the pics of him would notice he’s not aimed at the Feds, he’s aimed at the protesters. He’s dressed to look as much like a dufus as possible.
It is the height of arrogance for any federal agency to say this particular law on cattle grazing should be enforced at the point of a gun, while at the same time, our immigration laws are set aside and the Border Patrol is told to stand down. The rule of law is an endangered species more vital to our survival than the desert tortoise.
Federal agencies that handle public lands MUST use the local law enforcement authorities.
43 U.S.C. Section 1733, Subsection C :

“When the Secretary (of Interior) determines that assistance is necessary in enforcing Federal laws and regulations relating to the public lands or their resources he shall offer a contract to appropriate local officials having law enforcement authority within their respective jurisdictions with the view of achieving maximum feasible reliance upon local law enforcement officials in enforcing such laws and regulations.”

It's not about Bundy being right... It's about the government being wrong.

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(If there's one thing we know about comment trolls, it's that they're lazy)