The Cliven Bundy saga reminds me of the Trayvon Martin case: it is a very squishy example of a very real problem. Because the facts of these cases could be interpreted either way, they divide the rank and file rather than uniting us against the real enemy from above. In light of this, rather than the nuanced Bundy case, it would have been nicer to see the government forced to back down on a cut-and-dried asset forfeiture in which property was permanently confiscated from someone never convicted of a crime (like Rudy Ramirez), or an eminent domain case in which the government seized private property for the benefit of a private developer (like in the case of Vera Coking).
Sometimes I think that political operators deliberately choose cases that aren’t clear-cut because rather than despite the fact that they will generate grassroots activism on both sides of the aisle. In order for this to work, the case must have merit and flaws on both sides of the argument.
Such is true in the Bundy case. For example, the only valid legal justification I can see for Bundy not paying his fees is that they are so exorbitant, they would bankrupt him and the BLM knows it. That would mean the BLM wasn’t actually managing or regulating his rights to the land, but taking them from him by driving him into bankruptcy. This would be a regulatory taking and it’s illegal.
Bundy claims the BLM wants him to reduce his herd from 1,000 head to 150 head, which does sound economically crippling. Bundy also claims he owes the BLM fees of up to $1 million. The economic significance of this figure is less obvious. If Bundy owes $1MM for 20 years of grazing 1,000 head of cattle, that’s $50 per year per head…that might well be a fair price for feeding a cow for a year. But Bundy won’t pay it, he says, because he does not recognize the authority of the federal government to own that land.
If he is not actually arguing a regulatory taking but simply trying to take a stand against federal land ownership, perhaps he should be paying the fair value of his grazing rights into escrow in trust for whomever is ultimately adjudicated to be his rightful landlord. The right of the federal government to own and manage land in the west is of serious concern, especially if one is aware of the invisible hand of the UN in transforming land ownership from private to public whenever and wherever possible, but Bundy taking a stand against that is more philosophical than defensive, seems to me.
So Bundy’s claims may or may not be valid, however, there is another issue that indisputably needs vetting if not remediation. The Bureau of Land Management put out a report on mitigating the Dry Lake Solar Project in March 2014 that required the removal of Bundy cattle from federal lands. For the BLM to remove the Bundy cattle not to preserve the desert tortoise as officially stated nor to satisfy his debt but to serve the needs of an outside project is not allowed. Harry Reid’s possible connections with First Solar and his influence over the BLM, together with several known instances of Reid’s abusing his authority to benefit the energy or casino projects of clients of his son Rory, cry out for investigation.
Rule of Law
Bundy’s detractors claim that he is “denying the rule of law,” but thinking Bundy is in the position to do this fundamentally misunderstands the concept of “the rule of law.” In this case, only Harry Reid is even capable of denying the rule of law, and only Eric Holder or Daryl Issa would be in a position to restore it.
The left isn’t really invoking “the rule of law” in their anti-Bundy arguments, however, they are merely holding, as statists must, that whatever the government deems “law” must be obeyed, nay respected, even if it defies natural law or the tenets of liberty and justice. This is how Obama could object to Bush’s wiretaps but justify his own: Bush’s were “warrantless” while Obama’s have the imprimatur of a kangaroo court – case closed, the law has spoken. (One wonders if the left would maintain this argument if there were a military draft under a Republican president.)
In fact, the term “rule of law” doesn’t mean that the law is the final arbiter of right and wrong, nor that people like Bundy should obey the laws whether they agree with them or not, it actually means something qualitatively different. The expression “rule of law” means that we are not ruled by men, we are ruled by law. We do not have “rulers,” we have leaders and even they are subject to the law.
It is true that the most significant issue of the Bundy case is the violation of the rule of law. Not because the militia showed up to face down the government, nor because Bundy isn’t paying his taxes, nor even because the federal government may be overreaching its constitutional mandate, but because the Bundy case shows that Harry Reid is above the law. Not that he abuses his power – that politicians’ foible is as old as government itself – but that he will not be held accountable for it even though it has been exposed.
The Chairman of the Committee on Government Oversight & Reform, Darryl Issa (whose approach to prosecuting Operation Fast & Furious, for example, reminds one of Putin’s mysterious comment about the Snowden affair: it’s like shearing a pig – lots of squealing, little fleece), has already said Reid would not be investigated on this matter, and recently Attorney General Eric Holder stopped the FBI from investigating Senator Reid for campaign finance corruption. Simply put, Harry Reid is above the law. (For that matter, thanks to Issa, so is Eric Holder.)
It is becoming clear to more and more people that this country is no longer governed by the rule of law but by the rule of men, so it is understandable that a call to arms citing government injustice got a resounding response. As demonstrated when American Exceptionalism spread terrorism rather than cauterizing it, making exceptions to the rule of law destabilizes the system. When government actors don’t strictly adhere to actual law and even less to natural law, the voluntary compliance of the citizenry–an absolute necessity for law and order–begins to break down.
To restore the commitment of an otherwise law-abiding citizenry to operate within an imperfect but basically just system, we do indeed need to restore the rule of law. Bundy should pay a fair price for his grazing rights and the BLM should keep their hands off his cattle, but most of all Harry Reid’s every suspect dealing since the earliest evidence of his corruption was exposed over a decade ago, should be subject to a real investigation.
I have no hope whatsoever that this will happen, and because it won’t happen, the citizenry will continue to withdraw their consent from this government. That in turn may someday bring Harry Reid to echo the words of Woodrow Wilson, whose presidency more than anyone’s marked the end of the American Experiment:
I am a most unhappy man. I have unwittingly ruined my country. . . .We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated Governments in the civilized world; no longer a Government by free opinion, no longer a Government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a Government by the opinion and duress of a small group of dominant men.
Wilson was referring to having sold the country down the river to a tiny cartel of extremely powerful international bankers; how much more painful would Reid’s realization be (in the unlikely case he would be so honest) that he sold out this once great country for a few
pieces of silver legal fees for his son.