Accustomed though you may be to great Paul Krugman columns, do not miss his Sunday op-ed on “High Plains Moochers.” There’s been a lot of good writing lately about the Cliven Bundy fiasco, but Krugman nails it squarely:
It is, in a way, too bad that Cliven Bundy — the rancher who became a right-wing hero after refusing to pay fees for grazing his animals on federal land, and bringing in armed men to support his defiance — has turned out to be a crude racist. Why? Because his ranting has given conservatives an easy out, a way to dissociate themselves from his actions without facing up to the terrible wrong turn their movement has taken.
Excellent point. Bundy’s racist drivel lets Hannity and other wingnut sycophants back away in faux disappointment, without having to be held to account for their support of government moochers masquerading as government-bashers. As Krugman elaborates:
For at the heart of the standoff was a perversion of the concept of freedom, which for too much of the right has come to mean the freedom of the wealthy to do whatever they want, without regard to the consequences for others.
Start with the narrow issue of land use. For historical reasons, the federal government owns a lot of land in the West; some of that land is open to ranching, mining and so on. Like any landowner, the Bureau of Land Management charges fees for the use of its property. The only difference from private ownership is that by all accounts the government charges too little — that is, it doesn’t collect as much money as it could, and in many cases doesn’t even charge enough to cover the costs that these private activities impose. In effect, the government is using its ownership of land to subsidize ranchers and mining companies at taxpayers’ expense.
It’s true that some of the people profiting from implicit taxpayer subsidies manage, all the same, to convince themselves and others that they are rugged individualists. But they’re actually welfare queens of the purple sage.
It’s OK, say the wingnut pundits, for the likes of Bundy to steal from taxpayers, while all of them would agree grazing on land owned by just one tax-payer, or more likely in their case a tax-dodger, would be an outrage to them. Private property is sacrosanct; Government property is for looting. Not an argument that would stand up under much scrutiny.
Krugman adds that “the Bundy fiasco was a byproduct of the dumbing down that seems ever more central to the way America’s right operates,” not so unlike the once studious adolescent who stops reading books, so he can spend more time with comic books. As Krugman laments:
American conservatism used to have room for fairly sophisticated views about the role of government. Its economic patron saint used to be Milton Friedman, who advocated aggressive money-printing, if necessary, to avoid depressions. It used to include environmentalists who took pollution seriously but advocated market-based solutions like cap-and-trade or emissions taxes rather than rigid rules.
But today’s conservative leaders were raised on Ayn Rand’s novels and Ronald Reagan’s speeches (as opposed to his actual governance, which was a lot more flexible than the legend). They insist that the rights of private property are absolute, and that government is always the problem, never the solution.
“…Along with this anti-intellectualism,” continues Krugman, “goes a general dumbing-down, an exaltation of supposedly ordinary folks who don’t hold with this kind of stuff. Think of it as the right’s duck-dynastic moment.” Perhaps we can spare a rare kind word for conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who at least called out Bundy’s phony patriotism.
Other than that, don’t hold your breath waiting for more honest conservative reflection on the Bundy fiasco. As Krugman concludes, “I don’t expect it to happen.”