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May 18, 2008
In Defense of the Cowboy
Who is Robert L. Gibbs and what does he know about cowboys anyway?
Gibbs is the communications director for Barack Obama. During the 2004 campaign he was John Kerry's press secretary, until fired. Gibbs was criticized for his connection with a 527 political group called Americans for Jobs, Health Care and Progressive Values which ran attack ads (see one here) against presidential candidate Howard Dean. (McCain could change "Dean" to "Obama" and re-use that ad.)
So Gibbs is one of the old Democrat campaigning retreads, having once worked for Senator Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.), who is now part of Obama's new politics. But that's not why I'm shining the spot light on him.
Gibbs was the spokesperson from the Obama campaign who, on May 15, said during the CNN Newsroom broadcast,
Gibbs was referring to President Bush's now famous "appeasement" statement in Israel last week.
So what does Gibbs know about cowboys? He went to High School in Alabama and college there and in N. Carolina. Nice folks in those states. Few cowboys.
Gibbs was parroting someone else who coined the term "cowboy diplomacy." Someone who, like him, didn't know cowboys from cow pies.
To begin with, cowboy diplomacy is an oxymoron. Like cowboy boutique -- a place where tender-footed city slickers, like John Travolta in the movie Urban Cowboy, go to buy a western costume. Like cowboy quiche, cowboy leotards, or cowboy ballet.
Remember those "cowboys" in the movie "Brokeback Mountain?" They weren't cowboys. They herded sheep! For millennia they've been called "shepherds." Like those guys in long robes hanging around the manger in the Nativity Scene at Christmas.
So when Gibbs says cowboy diplomacy he joins the conga dance of politico-parrots and certifies his ignorance of cowboys.
Sure, I know he meant to sling an insult at Bush by suggesting that his administration has rushed into foreign entanglements with the careless and cavalier behavior of a thoughtless cowboy. Only problem is...that's not how cowboys acted.
How do I know this? Well, besides watching a multitude of westerns, beginning back with Johnney Mack Brown, Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, and Hopalong Cassidy, as a naturalized Texan from Obama's home state, I was required to visit a working ranch (King Ranch) and meet a real cowboy before being granted citizenship here.
There aren't many cowboys left. This cowboy was in his 70's, leather skinned, large gnarled hands, legs that spelled an upside down "U," bent back, and soft spoken. Not a presumptuous bone in him.
Back when the range was home to the American cowboy, they didn't dabble in "diplomacy." They worked. Cared for their mount better than even PETA recommends. Slept on the ground when out on the range. Wore boots as a defense against snake bites. Carried firearms for use against threats, sometimes bipeds, but mostly quadruped varmints.
They defended the herd. Lived in a barracks called a bunkhouse. Ate from a common table or a chuck wagon in the field. Bathed when they could. Slept under the stars where bugs live, and often died young -- but free. They were tough, realistic, no nonsense men. What in the world does Bobby Gibbs know about cowboys?
So they weren't educated like him. They knew how to brand and drive a herd of cattle hundreds of miles to a rail head. On the rare occasion when they called a woman "sweetie" it was because they had something in mind besides a condescending brush-off. In fact, they were generally awkward and timid around city women, since real ladies tended not to favor ranch hands. They were rough around the edges, and often to the nose.
Cowboys rode for their brand. Didn't have 401K's. Or pension plans. And were only careless about what they did when they had a few bucks to invest in a saloon. Get careless out on the range and you could die.
So when Bobby Gibbs accuses Bush of cowboy diplomacy, it's clear that he's parroting someone else who is likewise clueless about cowboys, and their code of honor.
All of which reminds me of a response that the cowboy Monte Walsh (Tom Selleck, in a 2003 movie of the same name) gave when another ranch hand asked how he'd been gettin' along.
"Better, since I gave up hope."