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What Do Cliven Bundy, Phil Robertson and Ted Nugent Have in Commmon?

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Sean Hannity is very, very sad. See, the real problem with the whole sordid Cliven Bundy affair is that Democrats will use his er, musings, about African Americans to paint Republicans with a broad brush, and accuse them and the whole conservative movement of being fundamentally racist. Hannity--after being the Number 1 fan of Mr. Bundy's heroic quest to avoid paying what he owed for using our land--now condemns the deadbeat rancher's racism, claiming, "Every conservative that I know does not support racism, period!"

Except, of course, for his friend, Ted Nugent. And neither is Hannity familiar with Phil Robertson, even though he supported Robertson on the air after the Duck Dynasty star essentially denied that there was racism in the Jim Crow South. In the words of the great philosopher George Walker Bush (this one never gets old): "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again." I think it's pretty obvious who Sean Hannity thinks are fools: the American people.

Seriously, though, let's talk about Republican racism. We can even just stick to the last couple of years. Yes, yes, we know that Republicans just hated Bundy's racist remarks. Except for the ones who have been slow to say so. Of course, when Bundy said that black Americans might have been better off under slavery, he was merely echoing the wisdom that Republicans from Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) to Michele Bachmann to Rick Santorum to Pat Buchanan (just to name a few), have also shared. At some point, it's not a bug, it's a feature of conservatism.

And we know what this is about. It is impossible to disconnect the "states' rights," anti-government foundations of conservatism from the racism that hides beneath it, exposed nakedly every so often by the Cliven Bundys of the world. It's there right below the surface when Paul Ryan talks about "the inner cities." Yes, it's there, no matter what Ryan says about his bones being free of racism. Dana Milbank rightly pointed out that the whole anti-government conservative movement "has been inextricably tied to racist movements." Why? Conservatives hate the federal government at least in part because it has protected the rights of minorities.

The avatar of modern Republican conservatism and racism, Strom Thurmond, left the Democratic party to run for president in 1948 explicitly advocating both states' rights and segregation. Here's one of his more infamous comments, one that reveals the real reason behind the call to limit the authority of the federal government, no matter who is making that call:

I wanna tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that there's not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.

In 1964 Thurmond became a Republican to back Barry Goldwater's opposition to the Civil Rights Act, and millions of white Southerners followed him into the GOP in subsequent years. Strom is the original tea partier. For more, check out Strom Thurmond's America by Joseph Crespino.

The hypocrisy of Republican support for Bundy knows no bounds. As Jamelle Bouie insightfully asked, "What if Bundy Ranch were owned by a bunch of black people?" Ta-Nehisi Coates called out Bundy and those conservatives who supported his cry for liberty, noting: "There may be no better example of racist privilege than the right to flout the government's authority and then back its agents down at gunpoint." I can't say it better than those two gentlemen.

And this privilege is at the heart of the tea party that has all but taken over the GOP. Judson Phillips is the head of Tea Party Nation. His support for Bundy knows no bounds, as he compared Bundy's stand-off with the Bureau of Land Management to--wait for it!-- the American Revolution. Former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer got it right about Fox and the Republicans who backed Bundy when he said: "They invited this skunk right into their tea party and they can't get the smell out fast enough." And no matter what those suddenly outraged Republicans are saying now that Bundy is no longer useful to them, there is no rift between the tea party and Cliven Bundy, according to at least one right-winger over at Newsbusters. Does that surprise anyone?

Cliven Bundy, in all his glory, represents the ugly heart of modern conservatism, which relies on racial resentment to motivate its overwhelmingly white base. Here's how Duke University African & African American Studies professor Mark Anthony Neal explained it: "We are looking at some of the 'last white men standing,'...[Bundy's] comments represent that, and people rally around him because of this idea that white men are under siege. They are calling out the political establishment to stand by them."

This is an existential fight for Cliven Bundy and for the tea party that, in reality, thinks just like he does. This means that Republicans are vulnerable on this issue at the ballot box. Now, I'm not suggesting that Democrats make Cliven Bundy their Number One campaign issue this fall. Nevertheless, this is something we can use to drive a wedge inside the Republican coalition, which cannot survive without Cliven Bundy Republicans. Here's what I'm thinking:

Remember Ward Churchill? The right-wing media tried to make him out to be some kind of poster boy for the Left after Bill O'Reilly spent days highlighting his disgusting characterization of the financial industry professionals killed in the Twin Towers on 9/11 as "little Eichmanns." Instapundit Glenn Reynolds characterized Churchill as the "very image" of "the Left." That was ridiculously untrue, but it was part of a general strategy of forcing Democrats on the defensive. That's exactly what we should do with Republicans and Cliven Bundy.

This will have a significant electoral impact, given that there really are Cliven Bundy Republicans (there never was any significant number of "Ward Churchill Democrats," as anyone so radical would certainly see Democrats as no better than Republicans). Although they usually keep their racist hate to themselves, Cliven Bundy's beliefs reflect what many on the Right actually believe. His hatred of the federal government is shared openly by Republican candidates, office holders and voters across the country.

We need to use Bundy to force Republicans either to alienate a significant part of their base, or reveal to moderates, independents and even mainstream conservatives just how nuts they really are. Either way, they lose and America wins.