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You’re right Harry, it isn’t over.

April 15, 2014

If you are one of those people that thinks the government has grown too big, too controlling and too corrupt to serve America well, then you had to be at least somewhat interested in the outcome of the Cliven Bundy versus the Bureau of Land Management armed confrontation on April 12, 2014.

That little dust-up had all the potential to turn very ugly. To the credit of all parties, no one got shot. Had this happened without all the media presence, we may have been reading obituaries.

If you thought it was a final statement on anything, you probably also believe in garden gnomes and leprechauns.

Mr. Bundy did a public victory dance, and Senator Harry Reid(D-NV) promptly declared the war was still ongoing.

You might think  from most of the news coverage that this is about evicting cattle to protect an endangered desert tortoise. The same tortoise whose habitat  used to include an area earmarked for development  of a solar energy complex and whose construction is reportedly backed at least in theory by Harry Reid, according to Reuters.

But make no mistake, it isn’t about that particular reptile at all.

I live in a state  in which 63 percent of the land is owned or controlled by the Federal government, mainly  the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture and Defense, according to a report available online.

In fact, most of the Federally owned or administered land is in the western United States. The Bureau of Land Management or BLM is the largest owner or stakeholder of this land, by virtue of a law passed in 1976 directing the BLM to hold these lands in perpetuity.

That law triggered a grassroots movement popularly known at the time as the Sagebrush Revolt or Rebellion, depending on your source. While its supporters were largely ranchers and miners at the time, many people who didn’t use the land, and who didn’t  stand a good chance of losing  the ability to derive a livelihood from it were still sympathetic to the movement. The government can be a very overbearing landlord. Anyone who has ever dealt with a rude government employee can attest to that.

Most pundits decided that the movement had been extinguished in the 1980’s. The Bundy events pretty well proved that isn’t quite true. Although I doubt that anyone on the scene took a census, I don’t doubt Mr. Bundy’s claim that a lot of the people there were not ranchers.

I don’t think this is a long-term winning strategy on the part of the ranchers, even if I understand why they felt they had to do it. Sometimes, you just have to put your life where your mouth is.

However, even Mr. Bundy admits that he hasn’t paid the assessed grazing fees to the BLM, although he maintains that he offered to pay them to the county or state government, the authority he regards as the rightful owner of the land. That’s the part that puts him at odds with the government. He has apparently never said he didn’t want to pay for his grazing rights, he just disputes that he has to pay them to the Federal government. To do that properly he would need to have the controlling law repealed, amended or invalidated.

Still, it fosters a image that some people find disturbing. I mean, who in the world stands up to the government this way?  That only happens in Egypt or Ukraine. And besides, historically, the government always wins in the end, right?

The Bundy’s  have been repeatedly rebuffed in the courts, although you could make a reasonable argument that the current conflict turned more on maintaining the right of the government to rule as it sees fit than whether the cattle were endangering that relocated tortoise.

Many people in the 1980’s were conditioned by media reports to see the ranchers as anachronistic environmental destroyers who are happy to take Federal subsidies when it suits them, but refuse to pay their so-called fair share when asked. It was hard for them to see the larger picture, or the developing trends.

Fast forward to 2014. People who have never even seen a grazing cow in the flesh are feeling the impact of government control of their lives.

The government now intrudes into our daily lives in ways  that I doubt that anyone over forty could have imagined even ten years ago.  In ways that affect us personally, not just in ways we only read about happening somewhere else. Government seems to have its finger in every school, every kitchen, every doctor’s office and even in our gas tanks. Sometimes Washington  feels more like a war room than a government, and we wonder if they think we are the enemy.

There are a couple of TV shows whose plots revolve around machines that watch our every move, or implanting computer chips in a human brain. It’s beginning to become difficult to know whether life is imitating art, or whether the script consultants of those shows have some inside information.

One lesson to be learned from revolts overseas is that without order there is chaos. Ill-conceived actions, no matter how outwardly palatable or noble, never take into account the unintended consequences  or plan beyond the moment.

Look at the  groups that support senior citizens that loudly backed the passage of the ACA. Then they suddenly realized that the money for it was going to come from cuts in existing government programs for seniors. They are now in full backtrack mode.

We need some government. Still, the government should be what the majority wants it to be, not the sole venue of the vocal minority.

If Cliven Bundy didn’t prove anything else, and whether you believe in his stand or not, he at least temporarily proved that the little guy can stand up, speak up  and be noticed. It’s a shame he had to do it looking down the barrel of a gun.

I don’t know if the scales will tip back toward the center in 2014 and 2016. But I do know that more people are reflecting on what they want the American government to be and deciding that what we have now isn’t it. That’s why Harry is right, and this war isn’t over yet.

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