House iconography, Bush is Gary Cooper to Clinton’s Elmer Gantry” (Brownstein 2001,
III. The Justice Fighter
As a mythic representation of American origins, the cowboy’s story implied that
violence was a necessary part of the process through which American society was formed
and through which its democratic values are defended and enforced (Slotkin 1998, 352).
In The Cowboy Hero, Savage described the legendary Western hero as “a guardian, a
righter of wrongs, or, at the very least, a perceptive and philosophical observer of the
human condition” (Savage 1979, 20). At a time when the frontier was a No Man’s Land,
there were no official laws governing the pioneers (Slotkin rev. ed. 1998, 14). Thus, the
cowboy’s code was the survival of morality and civilized behavior in a remote location
where policing and legal institutions were sketchy, weak or non-existent (Slotkin 1998,
352). Because he was schooled in the ways of nature (i.e. he learned first-hand how to
survive in the wilderness), he gained a unique vision of frontier justice (Savage 1979,
24). That is, the cowboy learned that in order to defend himself from the bad guys, he
had to learn to defend himself by learning to think like the enemy.58
Likewise in the new war against terrorism, the United States had to think like bin
Laden and Hussein in order to understand what the other side – what Bush administration
referred to as the “evildoers” – might be thinking or doing (Woodward 2002, 132).
57 Brownstein is referring to the sinner-preacher immortalized in the Sinclair Lewis novel. Elmer Gantry tells of the American heartland’s attraction to a wide-smiling, womanizing man who sweeps through the Corn Belt with a thunderous indictment of sin – while doing all that he decries.