I love cowboys. Actually, to be more precise I love the Hollywood caricature of the plains cowboy of the old West. You know the one. The rugged, wind burned individual bred from hardy white western European stock sandwiched between a 10 gallon hat and trail worn cowboy boots. He was the traveling loner with a body adorned and wrapped in leather chaps and matching leather vests. He rode atop a loyal Mustang (or Palomino – YMMV regarding the choice of horse) with his meager belongings tucked inside a saddle bag along with a blanket roll, tobacco bag & rolling papers, the requisite Colt .45 strapped to his leg and the Winchester slung inside a saddle sling as he wandered across the great open plains between the Mississippi valley and the Rocky mountains. Riding tall and erect he was accountable to no one but himself. But even more important, he was not one to rely on anyone but himself to get through life and take it in at a pace of his own choosing and without interference from anyone. Though he blends in with an ever changing seasonal environment he’s convinced himself the environment is a product of his own freewill. In other words it was his world and everything and everyone else just lived in it. For those grounded in the pop culture of the 1960’s and ‘70’s he was the Marlboro Man on steroids and he was armed.
The main problem in today’s body politic that defines our modern governments is this persistent Hollywood characterization of cowboys in the old west. And that problem is this: every Republican white male over the age of 45 actually see themselves as this Hollywood caricature. All one needs to do is listen to every speech ever given on the house and senate floor by the white right wing conservative male and you hear an oration peppered with veiled references to every characteristic I’ve described above. And to go even further, not only do they perceive themselves as this old west loner who just needs the community (i.e. today’s urban center or city, state or nation) to stay out of his way along with its pesky rules and regulations that go with it, he just doesn’t understand why everyone else doesn’t feel the same way. Welcome to the conservative Republican mindset.
To further complicate matters the Hollywood caricature described above has never existed in the pure form it envisioned. In real life cowboys, as defined by the actual historical name, does take on some of those Hollywood characteristics described above, but in the real three dimensional world of reality they were also a product of their environment. As people migrated west armed with nothing more than a few belongings, a plow and a Bible they competed to convert the open plains into proto urban centers of the future. Upon their arrival they also had with them their complicated notions of interpersonal relationships. Those interpersonal relationships were the basis of a loose social network couched in a sense of community. The real old west cowboy had to navigate that sense with a modicum of cooperation and the constraints it placed on his existence. Soon there followed a period of rapid expansion where these communities became more numerous, wide-spread and complex. As this expansion moved west the maverick characteristics that defined the old west cowboy became diluted. In a word the future was about community and the responsibilities that came with it if you decided to take advantage of some of the services a community or city offered.
This brings us to the modern conservative manifesto. The Hollywood cowboy caricature described above could almost act as a template overlay for the edict or declaration of principles that make up today’s white male conservative Republican. In reality these dogmatic annunciations of tenants and creeds in the real world is nothing more than a smoke screen that can take on a life of its own as it describes the raison d’etra of a conservative’s essence of being : one who is a devoted to family; one who believes in fiscal responsibility; small government; low, low, low taxes; one that believes in an unfettered, free, and unrestrained environment for private capital to flourish; a Christian devoted to faith and all the trappings of the religious community; and finally, one who devoutly believes in personal responsibility and accountability for one’s own actions. I think that about covers it. But let’s not kid ourselves. That rhetoric is for media and political consumption only.
Let’s strip away the rhetorical cloak and see what lies underneath where it sits hidden and only accessible by way of veiled dog whistle references. It’s the one principle that drives every fiber of their being in the rush to consturct a world where it’s the only thing that matters. It’s the main clause of their conservative manifesto: the community opt-out clause. This clause defines who they are. It’s the right to not invest in that community. It’s the right to take advantage of the services of that community without having to pay into it. It’s the right to let corporations and individuals of a certain tax bracket to come into your community and use its infrastructure without investing in it like tax exemption initiatives to attract private corporate benevolence. It’s the right to send money that corporations make out of the community never to me seen again in reinvestment. It’s the right to use the fire department, police department, city services and offices without investing in it. It’s the right to exist in that community and take advantage of what it offers while hardworking individuals of that community invest in it through property taxes, taxes on small businesses and volunteer services. That’s the one principle that makes them rage on in the Congressional forum for their so called conservative principles.
It’s the Hollywood cowboy who’s convinced himself the environment is a product of his freewill at the expense of everyone else while he navigates his way through it without even a by your leave. The essense of this principle is one they consider a natural right and brings a clarity only a conservative mind can appreciate.