Sunday, February 08, 2009

cowboy presidents

This week we talked about the "Myth of the West" in art and how President Ronald Reagan made use of the cowboy myth in advancing a new narrative of America (and a new narrative of his presidency). George Bush has both used and been accused of playing with the same myths.

The on-line American Popular Culture discusses Bush and the cowboy myth this way: In an address to the nation, on March 17, 2003, George W. Bush declared, “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.” The ultimatum aroused a multitude of commentary in editorials and news articles that depicted George W. Bush as a cowboy sheriff who told outlaws to get out of town or face the consequences. On March 19, for instance, Reuters ran a story titled “High Noon for Cowboy Era” in which the lead sentence declared that, for Arabs, Bush's ultimatum was a throwback to the Wild West. Bush's language struck many observers as dialogue straight out of a Hollywood Western: "You have until sundown to git out of this town."
Eric Baard, writing for the Village Voice in 2004 offered a piece called "George W. Bush A'int No Cowboy." Here is an excerpt:
George W. Bush is a fake cowboy. From media accounts, you'd reckon that the president was a buckaroo to the bones. He plays up the image, big-time, with $300 designer cowboy boots, a $1,000 cowboy hat, and his 1,600-acre Prairie Chapel Ranch in Crawford, Texas. He guns his rhetoric with frontier lingo, saying that he'll "ride herd" over ornery Middle Eastern governments and "smoke out" enemies in wild mountain passes. He branded Saddam Hussein's Iraq "an outlaw regime" and took the vanquished dictator's pistol as a trophy. As for Osama bin Laden, Bush declared, "I want justice. And there's an old poster out West, I recall, that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' " Britain's liberal newspaper The Guardian noted that "such language feeds the image overseas of Mr. Bush as a hopelessly inarticulate, trigger-happy cowboy."

But many commentators also point out that the cowboy image became a potent means of coalescing support for George W. Bush as a fast-acting, straight-shooting, brave president. Regardless of your political stance, it is clear the cowboy will not die with Bush.Remember, John McCain was a "maverick" and the Iranian government has accused now President Obama of using "cowboy rhetoric" in warning that regime of its nuclear ambitions.

17 comments:

Gordie C said...

I'm not totally sure that the Cowboy will be gone in the US now that Obama is in power. The US has a the image of being the strongest and most powerful nation on the planet. With that image we sometimes have to show a strong or aggressive front. If the US doesn't have a little cowboy in them, then we could be thought of as weaker. That would be especially bad in these perilous times we are in now. I think we should keep a cowboy mindset so the rest of the world and the people of the US don't think anything is wrong. I was watching the movie Pearl Harbor yesterday and one line that stuck with me was right after the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor the head Japanese admiral said, "I fear that we might have just woken the sleeping giant." Referring to the US military. the US being the giant has to have some cowboy in them to retaliate on the Japanese. So i don't think America will be without its Cowboy.

Max Rice said...

Its kind of funny how the republicans are portrayed as Cowboys, while democrats are portrayed as latte sipping hippies. These myths kind of distract from the reality of the situation. That these politicians are not cowboys, hippys, or average joe's but in fact just slimy politicians.

Max Rice said...
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Adam said...

I think if there were a president to rid the US of its cowboy image, it would be president Obama. His overall image, persona, and political views stand out from the two past cowboy presidents, the Bushes and Reagan. Though I think it may be too early for me to make this assumption. I may need to wait untill he has been in office for a longer period of time. Reguardless, I agree that George Bush is a modern cowboy. His personality, clothes, vocabulary, and political activity have all lead to the Cowboy identity.

Zack said...

I don't believe that the American Image of the Cowboy will ever die. A confident, strong and stoic figure like portrayl of the cowboy is just too good to pass up. Many people don't even vote for a president because they believe in their foreign policy or position on health care. A large factor is whether or not the voter gets a good feel from that candidate and it is obvious from George Bushes TWO terms in office that America likes there cowboys.

Kate H said...

I think that the mythology of a cowboy can also be seen as a hero getting the call of service just like a president. The image of the strong, quick to action cowboy is something that I think a lot of presidents look up to. In the picture of president Obama is the very funny to me all you see is current day chaos and smack dab in the middle of it sits this old western styled "cowboy".

Jack Terrier said...

I think the image of a cowboy to Americans is far different than view that other countries have of it. We see cowboys mostly as good, heroic and tough. Other countries it seems like see the american cowboy as an arrogant, violent, and provocative. Just waiting to get into another fight, so it makes sense that The Guardian would see bush as a type of cowboy and still say, "Such language feeds the image overseas of Mr. Bush as a hopelessly inarticulate, trigger-happy cowboy."

Kevin said...

its unfguido and khelfnaldo here, we both agree with gordies comment that america is the most powerful nation in the world and has to show a little cowboy for a tough image. keep bloggin

Matt H said...

I honestly think that presidents trying to portray the cowboy legend is over. I think that the Obama cowboy hat wearing was just for a joke and that America doe not want another cowboy after G. W. Bush for a long time to come. Like we said in class, in the cowboy myth, they are "gun-slingers." I think that Bush was a little too much of a gun-slinger and we, as a country, paid the price for his wrong doings. I truly do think that the cowboy myth is a great story, but if taken to the extreme, will kill itself.

maddie hilbrant said...

I think that Bush definitely played up the cowboy role, however I think it will be very interesting to see what happens as Obama gets used to his presidency. I think that where Bush grew up had a big piece of his "cowboy-ness" and I think he tried too hard to portray the American Cowboy. I agree with Matt, I don't think that American will be begging for another Bush, but it will definitely be interesting to see how Obama takes after the American Cowboy role.

maddie hilbrant said...
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Jillian F said...

I agree with what most people said. I think that Bush acted like a cowboy. I think that this is because he lives in Texas and I feel like most people down in the Southwestern area of the United States are cowboys or at least cowboy like. I do not think that Obama will play as big of a cowboy role because he has no back ground with cowboys or any part of the myth of the west.

Danny M said...

I too agree with the comments above that stated how the American government needs to portray a Cowboy like toughness to the rest of the world. This would help to keep our status as a world superpower. With the current situation of our economy it is important now more than ever for us to portray this to the world.

Kelly said...

I don’t think that the American image overall of cowboys is ever going to die. I do think that within the political spectrum it will though. I do not see president Obama as a cowboy or maverick in any way, shape or form. It will be interesting to see if he will try to put the cowboy persona on himself or not, though. I feel like he might to make himself seem more like a “tough guy” or “rugged” and not just an elitist politician.

Kimber said...

I agree with the many posts stating that Bush definitely played up the cowboy role. Just last week I wrote a post on an aricle I read in the Chicago Tribune. The author, Constance White, discussed six Presidents’ clothing choices. Interestingly, White commented, “Evoking oil and swagger, George W. Bush’s cowboy boots and belts now seem emblematic of the Wild West Mentality.” I thought this was really interesting how it related to our classes discussion, but the question that I had was, what do you think Obama’s style will evolve into? The comments that I recieved, from Adam and Miles, all felt that Obama's actions and decisions will change his image. I agree. I think we will have to see the future decisions that our new President makes before we can conclude if he carries the "cowboy" attitude and appearance.

Adam said...

It has been fourteen days since the last post on Anamericanstudies.com. Come bo'c!

Matt L. said...

I think that Obama is purposely playing this cowboy image up. As soon as a president gets into office for their first term they are already thinking of how to get re-elected. Obama understands the general public likes this image and he might be able to ride it into a second term.