Even before uttering his disgusting, racist remarks, Cliven Bundy was bad news. He waged a legal fight over a fee for grazing rights for more than a decade - and lost everywhere. His solution? Meet federal officials with guns when they tried to enforce a lawful court order to remove his cattle from government land. Why in the world would talk-show hosts and U.S. Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., think such a character was admirable?
The Bundy situation is not an isolated one. The far right - including talk-show hosts, bloggers and some elected officials - often show zeal for bad causes because they imagine harebrained or illegal ideas are true expressions of liberty and opposition to the scourge of big government. These are the people who thought the shutdown was a great idea because it is "important to fight." Many of them promoted the falsity that the National Security Agency was "listening to your phone calls" and that a surveillance program with zero instances of abuse that was helpful to our national security had to be dumped.
The habit of leaping before looking, embracing crackpots and celebrating defiance of the government by violence or criminal means (e.g. stealing government secrets) is a bad one, frankly a disqualifying one for office. A basic requirement of political leadership is the ability to assess character and evaluate the soundness of new faces and political tactics. Elected officials, after all, take an oath to the Constitution; to elevate characters like Bundy and Edward Snowden is to encourage violation of our system of elected representatives and duly appointed judges.
When right-wing politicians and extreme libertarians embrace an anti-government vision, they reduce the appeal of their message to a narrow subset of the electorate. It is impossible to expand the party to take in more African-American and Hispanic voters, let alone retain middle-class moderates, with a paranoid vision of government.
The purveyors of anti-government messages do not breed confidence with voters. (The reaction to the shutdown demonstrated the public's lack of patience for those who delighted in disabling government.) To the contrary, they scare off all but the true believers and do harm to their party and the conservative movement, which is blemished by the worst characteristics of the most extreme right-wingers.
Mainstream conservatives and the GOP as a whole should shun not only the Bundys out there, but also the politicians and media figures who defend them.
Jennifer Rubin writes for The Washington Post.