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The outrage at Cliven Bundy's comments about "the Negro" is bipartisan in way that the outrage at Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson was not. The two, you may recall, said broadly similar things about black people, but Robertson never used the word "Negro," and Bundy never disparaged gay people in the name of his religious beliefs.

We'll start with what each said. Here's Bundy, from The New York Times:

“I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro,” he said. … "[B]ecause they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?” he asked. “They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And 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? They didn’t get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

And here, from GQ is what Robertson said last December.

“I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once. Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I’m with the blacks, because we’re white trash. We’re going across the field.... They’re singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, ‘I tell you what: These doggone white people’—not a word!... Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues.

Emphasis added in each. Bundy's language is a little rougher; he uses the archaic and cringe-y word "Negro" and doesn't talk about working alongside black people. And, of course, he points to slavery specifically. But the core of each argument is the same: Black people were better off, happier, even when toiling under harsh, white masters than when the government offered them support.

Robertson's comments on race got buried by his much more vulgar comments about homosexuals ("a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man's anus"), comparing gay sexuality to bestiality, and stating that "the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers — they won't inherit the kingdom of God."

That's what the debate became about. Gay groups protested to A&E, the network that hosted Robertson's show. Conservatives rallied to Robertson's defense, citing religion, an argument probably best articulated by the Robertson family itself.

While some of Phil’s unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are grounded in the teachings of the Bible. Phil is a Godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Phil would never incite or encourage hate.

And like that, his comments about black Americans were buried under a rush to defend the right of Christian Americans to express disapproval of gays. It was a debate that contributed enormously to the push earlier this year to pass legislation protecting the right of Christian businesses to reject gay customers in the name of religious freedom. (Which culminated when Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a law to that effect passed by her state legislature.)

Cliven Bundy did a great job framing his opposition to the government and rallying people to his cause when his cows were seized. But Robertson did a much better job leveraging political sentiment in his favor after his controversial remarks. At their heart, though, they both said essentially the same thing.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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