am a product of the Vietnam era. I remember presidents trying to wage wars that were
very unpopular, and the nation split. And I felt like, I had the job of making sure the
American people understood” (quoted in Woodward 2002, 95).
Bush’s strain of cowboyism is most pronounced in his foreign policy, which has
been infused with increasing muscularity over time (Kornblut 2003, 16). In particular,
policy makers at the Pentagon have encouraged Bush to use his natural boldness and
stubbornness to enhance American power (Kornblut 2003, 16). Strength, they believe,
should be wielded visibly and purposefully in order to protect national interests –
especially after September 11th (Kornblut 2003, 16). In an interview with Woodward,
Bush said he “instinctively knew that we were going to have to think differently” about
how to fight terrorism (quoted in Woodward 2002, 50).
If cowboy ethic does succeed in persuading the American citizens as to the
legitimacy of the Bush Doctrine, then Bush and the old-school cowboy image both win.
While common sense may indicate that as the United States ages and turns more global,
the importance of the nineteenth century frontier as a vehicle of self-determination will
slowly diminish. This, however, does not appear to be the case. History gives us no
reason to suppose that the masses will ever cease to mythologize and mystify the origin
and history of our societies (Slotkin rev. ed. 1998, 654). Accordingly, the cowboy still
speaks to and arouses public interest, suggesting perhaps that the key elements of his
myth is drawn from the language of the “common” people – and not from the inner
circles of academia.70
change in Iraq. However, I would argue that the basic point could still be made today.
70 While myths are the historian’s “principle enemies,” the historian’s stock influence seldom extends into society beyond the texts he writes for the scholarly types, wrote William Savage in The Cowboy Hero. “The public will preserve its myths elsewhere” he claimed (Savage 1979, 4).