On the Nevada state flag appear the words “Battle Born,” a testament to the timing of Nevada's statehood, which was achieved during the Civil War. Perhaps Nevadans were trying to make up for lost time with the recent standoff prompted by Cliven Bundy, a disgruntled rancher who owes the federal government more than $1 million in grazing fees.
For 20 years, Bundy has told the feds, specifically the Bureau of Land Management, to take a hike. When they finally did, it was to his doorstep to confiscate some of his cattle. Armed militia members swiftly descended on Nevada to add their muscle to Bundy's defiance.
The prospect of “battle reborn” proved unappetizing to the BLM, so it backed off and returned the seized cattle. Bundy supporters immediately began crowing that they had won out over federal tyranny. To that characterization, we say "hogwash."
All they did was help Bundy get away with not paying grazing fees he owes, a move that continues to cheat the taxpayers. He's an embarrassment to ranchers in Wyoming and across the West who work hard, pay their taxes and maintain good relationships with managers of federal land on which their cattle graze.
The self-styled patriots, along with Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and the state's junior U.S. senator, Dean Heller, both of whom supported Bundy to the hilt, fail to grasp a supreme historical irony. President Abraham Lincoln shepherded the state of Nevada into existence to advance his efforts to preserve the union.
Now some of its leaders are fueling the same separatist sentiments that nearly sank the ship of state. The extreme states' rights position embodied by the pro-Bundy camp already tore this country apart once. Lincoln's greatest achievement was keeping the union from unraveling. The failure of the great American experiment in power-sharing would have shown the world that a free people was unfit to govern themselves.
It is undeniable that the federal government has expanded greatly and assumed more power since the Constitution was ratified. That reflects the complexity of governing 250 million people amid the challenges posed by a neighborhood of global dimensions. Weakening the federal government to the point where it can't even collect fees for grazing on public land would lead to disaster and dismemberment, as it did in this country in 1861 and much more recently in Somalia and Yugoslavia.
Allowing ample berth for Uncle Sam does not mean buckling to federal tyranny, as Sandoval, Heller and their anti-government disciples proclaim. Washington's power remains constrained by the 10th Amendment, an independent judiciary, a host of watchdog groups and the free flow of information guaranteed by the First Amendment, among other safeguards.
The free flow of misinformation or one-sided information is protected to the same extent, and Bundy basked in the praise afforded him by many on social media and a few in mainstream media outlets. He cut a sympathetic figure whose riff on the federal bogeyman attracted a degree of attention that would have been impossible 20 years ago.
Now that the standoff is all over but the shouting, it's time to assess the implications it will have for the rule of law. We are troubled by one obvious takeaway: Haul in enough lead, and you can ignore the law. Witnessing paramilitary citizens' brigades invoking patriotism to abet Bundy reminded us of Oscar Wilde's quip that patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.
We also find some fault with the BLM's heavy-handedness in dealing with Bundy, after years of not applying enough pressure. A man who brazenly flouted the law for personal gain was presented with a gift-wrapped victim card to play.
It didn't have to be this way. The rule of law is a hallmark of functioning democracies, and it was bypassed in this instance. States' rights can be claimed and asserted properly, but they shouldn't even be a consideration when a rogue rancher is simply trying to dodge a bill.
If this government of the people, by the people, for the people is to continue to long endure, then Nevada's motto, “all for our country,” ought to be every American's motto and the best reason to dismiss Bundy for what he is -- a crank who won't pay his dues like everyone else.