Rancher Cliven Bundy speaks at a news conference near Bunkerville, Nev., Thursday, April 24, 2014. Bundy, a Nevada rancher who became a conservative folk hero for standing up to the government in a fight over grazing rights, lost some of his staunch defenders Thursday after wondering aloud whether blacks might have had it better under slavery. (AP Photo/Las Vegas Review-Journal, John Locher)

Republicans who praised Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy for standing up to the tyranny of the federal government are sprinting away from him following Bundy’s remarks suggesting blacks were better off under slavery “picking cotton.”

“I’ve often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy?” Bundy said in remarks first reported by the New York Times. “They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom.”

Bundy recently became a hero to some on the right after officials from the Bureau of Land Management confiscated some of his cattle, because for 20 years he’s refused to pay fees for grazing his herd on land owned by the federal government. Hundreds of gun-toting supporters rallied to Bundy’s side, and a stand-off with federal officials ended with the feds releasing his cattle. Fox News has devoted nearly five hours of effusive prime time coverage to Bundy; pundits at conservative publications like National Review likened him to George Washington and Mahatma Gandhi. Praise was not unanimous; some conservative outlets like the Weekly Standard called him lawless.

It’s perfectly consistent to believe the federal government owns too much land and also believe Bundy’s remarks are offensive. Nevertheless, Bundy’s central point — that black poverty is less a legacy of two hundred years of slavery and institutionalized racism than of the welfare state — is a notion conservative speakers have espoused and conservative audiences have applauded for years.

Former Florida Republican Rep. Allen West wrote in his recent book that “the Great Society has left a legacy of economic dependence, a new form of slavery, and to me, a far more dangerous one, because it destroys the will and determination to excel.” Aging former rock star and Republican campaign surrogate Ted Nugent once wrote that “President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society” would do “more damage, cause more harm and become responsible for more destruction to black America than the evils of slavery and the KKK combined.” Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell wrote that “The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”

Sometimes, the Jim Crow South is substituted for slavery, like when Duck Dynasty star and last year’s conservative pop culture martyr Phil Robertson said that “Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.”

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