Carroll Dale Short

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The Marshal's Gone, and You're Not Him

By Dale Short

These days I try to steer clear of talking about politics, because the subject tends to make my blood pressure creep up. Then again, I'm told it's not good for one's blood pressure to get too LOW, either, so occasionally I have to climb up onto my soapbox and balance things out.

This won't take long. Bear with me.

For 30 years now, Americans have been sold a bill of goods. Taken to the cleaners. Duped. Scammed. Burned. And a bunch of less family-friendly terms, but those will do for now.

In 1980, politics--particularly the GOP--was in the doldrums. So the party's strategists looked around for promising candidates and settled on a guy from Eureka, Illinois, who had majored in sociology and worked as a radio DJ. He didn't know much about government, but he had acted in some cowboy movies and hosted “Death Valley Days” on TV.

Which was close enough to being an actual cowboy, right? And at that moment, wasn't it a good old-fashioned cowboy that American needed as its president? Certainly not some wimpy career Navy guy named Carter who had only commanded a nuclear submarine.

Voters in 44 out of 50 states agreed, and the rest is history.

Fast-forward 20 years, and the GOP had fallen on hard times again. Even worse, a Democrat was in the White House and had created a booming peacetime economy and a large budget surplus, and the opposition certainly couldn't let that go on for long.

Unfortunately cowboy movies, too, had fallen on hard times by then, so the GOP strategists had to improvise. They sought out a guy from a wealthy New England family, a Yale/Harvard business grad, and talked him into moving to a Texas mansion they called a “ranch” even though it had servants' quarters but no cattle.

This billionairre Yale/Harvard guy was afraid of horses anyway, so the most cowboy-like national image they could arrive at, for him, was to stock up on flannel shirts, work jeans, boots, and a chain saw with which to cut any brush on the property that his groundskeeping staff might have missed. Call up the international TV crews, who responded en masse.

Cowboy? Not really, but apparently close enough for government work.

In the weeks following George W. Bush's Supreme Court “victory,” the American news media spent hundreds of hours talking excitedly about cowboy traditions, ranch-hand lingo, Tex-Mex cooking, line dancing, and all the other skills that made the new electee a capable steward of the world's largest and most high-tech democracy.

And if anybody had questions about such effluvia as the vote total, those doubts were proven irrelevant because George W. Bush was later chosen, through international media polls, as “the guy you would most like to have a beer with.”

The politicians who have gained the most rabid followings since then have all cast themselves as tough, self-sufficient loners with either literal or figurative six-shooters (or hunting rifles and helicopters, in Gov. Palin's case), who are keeping our children and women-folk safe in a simultaneously desperate and idyllic country that's some weird hybrid of Dodge City and Mayberry, USA.

Ironically, all of these self-styled Marshal Dillons tell us that one of the things they're keeping us safe from is the government (which is themselves). The government should play no role whatever in our private lives, they say, except to force us all to live according to God's teachings in the Old Testament—not to be confused with the teachings of Jesus, in the New Testament. It's complicated, OK?

If a good citizen happens to be destitute or sick or handicapped, it's clearly a personal failing and/or laziness on his/her part and so they're on their own. This is the Wild West we're living in, after all, not some namby-pamby vacation resort, and if we have to haul some expired slackers up to Boot Hill for funerals now and then, it's the price we pay for self-sufficiency, survival of the fittest, and...

Wait, scratch that. “Fittest” sounds too much like something that the great infidel Charles Darwin would say.

Anyway, where were we?

Digging out from the ruins of two “cowboy” presidencies, last time I looked. And still praising the Lord and Marshal Dillon, passing the ammunition, looking out for Number One, kicking the butts of any nations across the globe who look at us crooked, pretending that Jesus's “Sermon on the Mount” is some quaint historical text and not our direct commission from the person whom we acknowledge, with our mouths, as the Son of God.

And wondering why we as a nation are not happy, fulfilled, and prospering.

Furthermore, I would bet my next week's lunch money that the current leading GOP strategists are huddled somewhere right now—millionaires feeding at the public trough, with free government health care that the rest of us can only dream about—all while grooming, with our tax dollars, the next he-man cowboy who will set our country right (as opposed to Right) in 2012.

After all, the third time's the charm.


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