When the anti-government rancher Cliven Bundy stepped before the cameras to “tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he also stepped into far-reaching and noxious American historical myths about self-sufficiency, race, and rugged individualism. Bundy’s actual words - delivered in a Western drawl by a man in cowboy hat and boots, against a backdrop of sagebrush and desert scenery – were mostly the same old “government makes people dependent” arguments that saturate the right-wing blogosphere and FOX News.
But there was something else embedded in Bundy’s observations about "the Negro" that bears mentioning.
Students of the history of the American West have long known that the strong, rugged individualists that populate our movies, TV shows, and myths always depended on government – to give them ownership of their farms and ranches, to subsidize private corporations like railroads for access to markets, for federal troops for protection from Indians, and federally funded dams and canals for irrigating their fields and sustaining their livestock and towns.
The idea that Bundy’s pioneer ancestors somehow made their fortunes (“built that”) without any help, before the invention of government assistance, the Bureau of Land Management or federal regulations, is preposterous.
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