It is interesting how an easily image can be created that many think of as being near-authentic while in actuality there is little if anything to back it up. As Mr Baard aptly observes,
...liberals from both coasts and Europeans who derisively call Bush a "cowboy" foolishly insult not Bush, but one of America's prime ennobling myths. Instead of ridiculing the myth exploited by George W. Bush, they may want to measure him against it.In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find a reason to liken a scion of a privilleged family who spent most of his life in corporate boardrooms and corridors of power to a cowboy, a rugged man who, as Johnny Cash put it, "rides point for all the great and small", in an environment barely suitable for survival, let alone any sort of creature comforts.
Baard's article presents a good analysis of the ethical underpinnings of the cowboy image.
"The idea of the American cowboy is the direct lineal descendant of the chivalric knight," observes Bonnie Wheeler, a medievalist in cowboy country. "The only serious difference is that your status doesn't depend on your social class."Baard proceeds to underline the differences between what would be dictated by the Cowboy Code of Conduct vs our President's actions.
"Our president," she says, "is neither a knight nor a cowboy. He doesn't believe in taking care of the little guy, nor does he have the restraint or dignity of the cowboy."
Children of Bush's generation grew up knowing of the Cowboy Code, which echoed the chivalric one. It was written by screen cowboy Gene Autry. In real life too, this lifelong Democrat was the kind of white-hat cowboy our president presents himself to be. Autry was the son of an itinerant cattle driver and horse trader in rural Texas and Oklahoma. He was a recreational small-aircraft pilot, but during World War II he paid for his own flight lessons on larger planes so he could serve in the Air Transport Command on the war front, instead of being stuck at a domestic base. Ultimately he flew explosive supplies (ammunition and fuel) over the Himalayas. A grateful U.S. Army bestowed a singular honor on Autry: He alone was allowed to wear his cowboy boots in uniform.This is about more than having a big ranch. Like the knight, the cowboy is an ideal to which people aspire, Wheeler says, regardless of its mundane historical origins. And Autry's code still carries resonance in red states.
Here's how Bush stacks up against the Cowboy Code:
1 The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage. The doctrine of preemptive war, the centerpiece of Bush policy in Iraq and for the "war on terror," is one for the black hats. In 1902, five years before Gene Autry was born, Owen Wister's bestselling novel The Virginian elevated the cowboy to a national symbol. "It's not a brave man that's dangerous. It's the cowards that scare me," a card dealer observes early in the book. "I never like to be around where there's a coward. You can't tell. He'll always go to shooting before it's necessary, and there's no security who he'll hit." When the Virginian is forced into a climactic duel, the villain shoots first. Only then does the Virginian return fire and make a clean kill.
Though the Virginian continually countered dastardly deeds done by the villain Trampas, he always acted magnanimously when he had the upper hand. American Cowboy magazine asked its readers to explain why we still need cowboys, noting that, thanks to western movies, "for decades, folks of all descriptions have admired and tried to emulate him." U.S. Army Corporal Randy Melton of the 1st Cavalry Division replied from Baghdad, "If those guys who did all that crazy stuff to the 'terrorist POWs' grew up sitting on a horse instead of in front of a TV playing video games, maybe they would have conducted themselves with a little more dignity." Melton added, "Every time my platoon corralled a couple of 'bad guys,' it's easy to get angry with them. But we always treat them with dignity, whether they deserve it or not."
Unfortunately, the sadistic abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and the violations at Guantánamo Bay and Afghanistan didn't start with a few young soldiers raised on Mortal Kombat. According to probes by the Army itself, it stems from specific policies crafted in the White House and carried out by Pentagon generals and consultants.
2 He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him. Soldiers commit their lives to the commander in chief's judgment and care. Bush sent them into a war of choice, not necessity, and one based on misleading rhetoric, and they landed in Iraq without so much as enough sets of body armor to shield them. At the same time, he pushed to cut soldiers' pay and cut veterans' benefits. The Bush administration has also extended terms of service, effectively drafting soldiers who've already done their duty.
On the home front, the Bush administration has used the Patriot Act to prune back the very liberties he swore to uphold and protect.
3 He must always tell the truth. Ersatz cowboy George W. Bush hasn't. The two key issues facing America today are the war and the economy. He misled the nation into the Iraq war with false claims of imminent danger. He promised that his tax cuts wouldn't result in deficits and then said deficits would be "small and short term." The federal deficit is now enormous, estimated at over $400 billion, and looks likely to last years.
4 He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals. Children are being ground under the heels of those fancy boots. Bush is relaxing safeguards against the neurotoxin mercury, which is particularly dangerous to the growing brains and nervous systems of fetuses and children, and the Clean Air Act has been stripped of key provisions to control coal-fired power-plant emissions known to cause respiratory illnesses like asthma.
If Johnny Cash were still alive, I doubt he would lionize George W Bush as a cowboy hero. And it sounds like there is a good reason for that.
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