Cliven Bundy's Party 

The house that hatred built

In August of 1980, Ronald Reagan went to Mississippi to deliver a major campaign speech in support of returning to the states those "rights" he felt had been usurped and defiled by the federal government. Why Mississippi? And why a county fair just outside the small town of Philadelphia, Miss.?

Those who continue to adore Reagan will say it was a popular county fair, presumably crawling with potential votersĀ­. And why wouldn't a presidential candidate go to where there's already a crowd to make his speech?

Those who grow ever more repulsed by everything Reagan represented--I count myself among them--look more toward the speech itself as the focus of that campaign stop, rather than the opportunity to charm some Southern voters. A policy address on states' rights in Mississippi?... the most vicious and unrelenting holdover from the vile Confederacy. An appeal to return the power over the election process to local officials in the very epicenter of the most brutal attitudes and attacks on civil rights and civil rights workers? A rally to extol the old South's approach to governance in that open sore on the underbelly of America, where the simple and fundamental right to vote had been resisted for a century with violence and intimidation and murder?

And why Philadelphia specifically, where only 16 years earlier, three young civil rights workers, doing nothing more offensive than registering black voters, had been slain like animals in one of the most hideous crimes of the 20th century? That is where Reagan chose to show his sympathy for the poor, poor states who had had some of their authority preempted by the feds, if only because they had used that authority like the Klan used nooses and fire bombs?

To those who see nothing inherently corrupt and diseased in that speech in that place at that time, don't bother to try to answer those questions. We've heard it all before. Oh no, Ronald Reagan wasn't a bit racist. Oh no, Ronald Reagan was a great defender of individual freedom and would never dream of seeing America return to the day when millions of black citizens were denied full citizenship. Oh no, Ronald Reagan was merely trying to demonstrate how far we have fallen from the intentions of the Founding Fathers.

However, those who still adore Ronald Reagan are right about one thing. He was the perfect man to represent his political faction. The faction that, ever since the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s, had become the haven for any and everyone who objected to African Americans having a full and equal role in the American story. The faction that took the party of Abe Lincoln and Ike Eisenhower, and twisted it into the party of Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond. The faction that now covers its true face under the hood of the Republican Party.

•••

So are we shocked at the things Cliven Bundy said about "Negroes"?

Absolutely not. We've been hearing it for decades, but usually from people whose acts are more polished than Bundy's. In essence, how different is that Nevada moron's comments about blacks sitting around doing nothing, from Mitt Romney's 47 percent remark? How different is it from Paul Ryan crowing that this country is being overrun by "takers" who demand "free stuff"?... or Newt Gingrich speaking of no work ethic among urban blacks and acting like he gives a damn whether they have jobs or not?

How different is Bundy "wondering" if blacks weren't better off enslaved than Republican-controlled state administrations passing law after law limiting that population's access to that most fundamental component of freedomĀ­--the vote? Or Darrell Issa treating Rep. Elijah Cummings like a "boy" who had forgotten his place in a Congressional hearing?

The old, nasty words have been replaced by encoded pictograms: "welfare queens," "inner city thugs," "feckless" in place of "lazy," "disengaged" instead of "no-count." But we have deciphered the code, designed to disguise the same old hostility that has plagued America for centuries.

Some of us even remember how this current conservative rage for school vouchers and charter schools traces directly back to the years following the integration of public schools, back to when white Southern parents were hastily throwing together private schools, then pushing for any gimmick they could devise to get hold of public funding to pay for the covert segregation.

And the insatiable lust for more and bigger guns in public places?... who are the criminal hordes the most hysterical gun nuts see coming for them, anyway?

No, there is nothing new about Cliven Bundy's racism. It is what we have come to expect from the modern Republican Party, from top to bottom. And it pre-dates Barack Obama by decades. Upon the passage of those civil rights laws, Lyndon Johnson told his aides he feared he had lost the South for the Democrats for a generation, all in resentment over his having done what was fair and just and moral. He was absolutely right about the hatred and bitterness that drove away those people for whom racial differences meant everything.

But he was wrong when he predicted a single generation of such bitterness. We are now into the third generation of that racial sourness--the continuing decay that gathers and organizes under the banner of a Grand Old Party.

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