The men occupying Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge represent a bizarre contradiction. They howl about the overreach of the federal government, but they are among the biggest beneficiaries of government programs. For 150 years, their brand of logic has pitted individuals against an activist government, Western cowboys against black Americans, and the West against the East. Behind their protest is a uniquely American story that welds racism to anti-government sentiment. It comes from a peculiar coincidence of timing: that Reconstruction after the Civil War coincided with U.S. expansion into the American West.
Real “patriots,” the Bundys claim, stand against a behemoth government that has grasped their lands and their rights. America, after all, is made by ambitious individuals working their way up. A government that promotes social welfare or regulates business destroys the American system because it both limits a man’s ability to make money and requires tax revenue. Those taxes strike at the very heart of individualism because they redistribute money from hard workers to lazy people.
Ammon and Ryan Bundy and their compatriots are quite clear about exactly who those lazy people are. The younger Bundys’ father, Cliven, the Nevada rancher who started an armed standoff with government officials in 2014 over grazing rights, had plenty to say about the “Negro” who lived in government housing and “didn’t have nothing to do.” African-Americans’ laziness led them to abort their children and send their young men to jail. Bundy wondered: “are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life… or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”
And yet, the Bundys are perfectly comfortably taking money from government programs themselves. Aside from animal kill programs that protect herds, drought relief payments, and the 93 percent discount at which the government assesses grazing fees, Ammon Bundy borrowed more than $500,000 from the federal government through a loan guarantee program for small businesses. Ammon Bundy’s father, Cliven, owes the government more than $1 million in grazing fees for running his cattle on public land. No matter how you slice it, taxpayers have subsidized the Bundys.
Observers have made much of this obvious contradiction. But it is not a sign only of the Bundys’ lack of self-awareness, or even simply of white supremacy. It is the intellectual formula that has driven American politics since 1980.
That formula was laid down immediately after the Civil War. In 1865, the South was so devastated by the war that Southerners, white and black, were starving. To provide rations and medical care, and to place homeless Southerners on farming land, Congress created the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands. To emphasize that government aid would be temporary, they placed what became known as the Freedmen’s Bureau within the War Department.
In summer 1865, military officers distributed 150,000 rations, a third of them to white people. But the agents also took on an unexpected role. Southern states refused to let ex-slaves testify in court, leaving them to the tender mercies of angry white Southerners, who cheated, beat, raped and murdered them. So Freedmen’s Bureau officers began to hear the cases that pitted black and white Southerners against each other.
While agents often forced black people back to work for abusive employers or demanded subservient behavior, they decided cases in favor of ex-slaves about 68 percent of the time. So Southern Democrats rewrote history. They had not fought the Civil War over slavery after all, they insisted. They had fought it to stop a huge government bureaucracy from forcing its way into their homes and regulating the way they treated “their people.” They had fought, they now claimed, not for slavery, but for states’ rights.
When Congress tried to expand the Freedmen’s Bureau the following year to enable it to provide education for poor Americans of all races, President Andrew Johnson added the final ideological piece to the Democrats’ attack on an activist government. That piece was taxation. During the war, the Republican Congress had created the nation’s first national taxes, including the income tax.
Johnson vetoed the bill expanding the Freedmen’s Bureau on two grounds. First, although the schools in the bill would have disproportionately helped whites in the border states, Johnson claimed that it provided benefits for African-Americans that had never been accorded to white people. Second, he explained that the bill would create an army of officials that would harass Southern whites, while the taxes necessary to support them would impoverish hardworking white people.i'll say it again name change and all republicans entire existence is built on deception. people tend to listen to people of stature gullible and under educated people listen, cheer and follow the dictate of those same people of stature so much so our political standard has pretty much come to snake oil merchants of misinformation deliberately designed to mislead and influence republicans and Fox lead the pack since the 70's. what we need to take the country to is free thinking more educated less gullible Americans.