Well, I asked people to give their evaluations of Cliven Bundy's remarks ahead of my own thoughts. Thanks to all who replied, regardless of what your take on the issue was.
My own take? I think Bundy's remarks were clumsy and stupid. Not particularly racist.
One theme I saw in some of the responses was that Bundy was overgeneralizing. Yes, the social situation of American blacks generally is pretty shitty. A 73% out of wedlock birth rate, one hell of an abortion rate, and more. Now, someone can reasonably say 'Well, those are rates and averages. Not totalities. You shouldn't treat blacks as a monolithic group, so it's wrong to talks about 'blacks' getting abortions as opposed to 'some blacks' or 'many blacks'.' Intellectually, that's fair.
In practice, it's bullshit. And by bullshit I mean that Cliven Bundy didn't whip up a firestorm of negative reaction by his omitting the word 'some' when describing the state of American blacks, so let's not pretend that was the trigger issue. Or at least, if it IS the trigger issue, it's ridiculous. You can call his phrasing sloppy, but that's about all you can say about it. On most other topics omissions like that wouldn't cause people to so much as blink an eye.
Another topic that came up was whether blacks were better off under slavery than what they're experiencing right now. Bundy was brief here - he seemed to suggest he was talking about welfare and the effects this has on the human spirit, but he didn't say much.Still, that's a hell of a thing to say. Saying blacks may have been better off as slaves?
But Bundy was talking about situation and culture, not some kind of limitation of race or any such crap. Saying that blacks may have been collectively in a better situation then than now may be wrong, it may even be obviously wrong. But racist? It doesn't show up.
Now, I think Bundy's remarks were clumsy to say the least. Stupid as well, if his goal was to actually prompt a discussion about the federal government or race or anything else. But that's about it: clumsy, dumb remarks at worst. He didn't owe the world an apology. At worst he should have been asked some followup questions to make the necessary clarifications.
But no one asked for a clarification. People largely responded by asking if he stood by his remarks, demanding an apology, and calling him a racist.
This wasn't just left-wing regulars either. Rand Paul immediately cut and run, Glenn Beck did much the same. They made it clear that his statements were horrible and terrible and racist and in the process helped ensure that anyone who ever has anything critical to say about the federal government's impact on black communities, or problems present in any other non-protected group, had best keep their mouths shut.
Now, someone can point out that it may well be possible to talk about the subjects Cliven Bundy is talking about without triggering as much fury. It requires being articulate, careful, thoughtful and clear, avoiding offense, and being able to defend yourself with linguistic grace in the event that someone inevitably does try to read racism into what you're saying. No doubt this can be accomplished.
The problem is - and few people seem to appreciate this - if that is the standard in place in order to authorize critical discussions about race, it's as good as outright censorship. It ensures that only a very particular elite have even the possibility of discussing these subjects, and it just takes a single screwup to crucify them - so even they are going to be discouraged from talking about it all.
So we're left with the unfortunate situation where Cliven Bundy said something pretty dumb, but far worse were the reactions to him. The harm Bundy caused by saying what he did was (aside from the harm to himself) largely imaginary. The harm done by the likes of Beck, Paul and the usual "progressives" was very real.