Nevada rancher and extreme conservative Cliven Bundy returned to the national stage by starring it what must be the most bizarre campaign ad of 2014. Politicians shooting copies of the Obamacare legislation have got nothing on this ad which features a white horse, two black hats, chaps, and the man himself spouting racist buzzwords all in support of a third-party candidate with no chance to win. The spot masquerades as an advertisement for African-American candidate Kamau Bakari’s congressional campaign, but in reality it seems like a platform for Bundy to congratulate himself on his controversial views on race. It also has a challenge to Attorney General Eric Holder to come to Las Vegas and debate race with Bundy, if he is not too scared of a white man, that is. All in all, the ad starring Cliven Bundy is nothing more than racist clap-trap that does nothing to serve the campaign of a candidate who has essentially already lost.
It is hard to imagine what Kamau Bakari was thinking when he tapped Bundy to appear on the ad with him. It is no masterstroke that will galvanize conservative support behind him and his efforts to unseat Democratic Representative Dina Titus. Experts say that she has a more than comfortable hold on her congressional seat. When Bundy spouted off to cameras about how black people were better off as slaves, the Republicans who had been glorifying him made a sharp u-turn in the other direction. The backlash was so severe that the racist rancher left the Republican party for the Independent American Party where his views were much more palatable. With that fact in mind, it seems like a bad strategic move for candidate Bakari to make.
But this is really not an ad for Bakari at all. Instead, this is Bundy’s explanation of himself and a chance to show that he has a black friend. The two men stand next to a white horse, the usual vehicle for Western heroes, talking about “black folks” and “white folks.” Bakari spends most of his time complimenting Bundy, which is unusual since the ad is for his campaign. If one did not know better, they would say that the infamous cattle rancher was the one running for office. “A brave white man like you might be just what we need to put an end to this political correctness stuff,” Bakari tells Bundy. Bundy does not disagree with him.
The crux of Cliven Bundy’s starring role in this racist campaign ad is that black people in America are beggars and shameful. Bakari is the one who proclaims that “I feel shame when I see black folks… always begging.” That may be his opinion, but it coincides well with Bundy’s own and offers it reinforcement because of Bakari’s race. Bundy’s response to that statement is, “It’s almost like black folks think white folks owe them something.” Observers of politics will identify that statement as the racist, anti-affirmative action, anti-civil rights jargon that it is. But the ad is insidious in having a black man agree with it and support it. In that respect, the ad functions as an elaborate “I have a black friend” statement for Bundy and his racist views.
That comes in to play as they dare Attorney General Eric Holder to join them in Las Vegas for a debate on the issue of race. The ad actually begins with Eric Holder (labelled as a race baiter) discussing how America has been “a nation of cowards” on the issue of race. Bundy then asks whether he is a coward and Bakaria reassures him that it only applies to “all white folks.” Bakari has already called his friend a “brave white man” and the duo decide to double-down on that supposed bravery with their names on-screen and the label “patriots” below. The irony of issuing a challenge that neither expects to be answered is inescapable as is the fact that views like the ones in the ad are evidence enough that racism and the problems attached to it are still alive today.
In reality, Bundy’s opinion of black people is such that were it in effect, Bakari would not be able to run for office at all. After contemplating the plight of African-Americans and their history, he commented, “I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton… or are they better off under government subsidy?” Back then when he first expounded his racist views, he concluded that “They didn’t get more freedom. They got less freedom.” By extension, he believes that Bakari is an oppressed person who would have a better life as a slave than as a congressional candidate. The difference between Bakari and other African-Americans, though, is that Bakari agrees with Bundy and dislikes black people as much as Bundy obviously does. That is the only explanation for his shame and for his association with the notoriously outspoken racist Nevadan.
Bundy may have returned like a bad penny, but thankfully his views, this time delivered by proxy in Kamau Bakari, are not gaining any traction. Democrat Dina Titus is unlikely to have a problem holding on to her office and Bakari is no competition. Instead, this egregious campaign ad serves to remind people that racism is still a problem in America and that it is not completely eradicated. As sickening as Cliven Bundy’s starring role in this campaign ad is, it does serve a purpose as a warning sign about racism and the forms that it may take. The message is to be vigilant and not forget the American history that has led to this present moment.
Opinion By Lydia Bradbury