Pistol Packin’ Sarah Shoots Up the Screen

Originally published at Huffington Post, Sept. 5, 2008

John Ford couldn’t have staged it better. There was Cowboy George disappearing into the sunset, draggling a few twigs of Crawford brush behind him, while Old Man McCain, patriarch of Sedona Ranch — or one of those dang houses, never could remember which — was waving him off with relief. And suddenly there she was — out of the Alaskan blue — Cowgirl Sarah, twirling her guns and cocking her jaw like Clint Eastwood in full attack mode, a loner out for justice.

Despite all the chants for change in both camps, those Repubs know that nothing speaks louder than that old reliable cowboy image honed by generations of Hollywood directors like Ford, beloved by generations of city-bred Winchester and Marlboro men like Cheney, and adopted by every president since cowboy actor Ronald Reagan put on boots and spurs.

But Cowboy George nearly wrecked the genre. It was just bad casting. Despite the learned strut and the put-on twang, he never could get the hang of looking real. He was always Preppie Cowboy. Seemed like he’d ruined the getup for good, until McCain’s gut told him to just shift the whole cowboy thing onto his sidekick. Like the Lone Ranger saying, “Here Tonto, you be the Maverick.” How many times on the convention platform did Palin’s fellow Repubs describe her as a gun-totin’, rootin-tootin’ pistol- packin’ mama of five– a maverick, rebel, outsider? “We’ve now got two crack-shots leading our ticket,” shouted one delegate. But actually, she’s riding point as the gunshooter, letting patriarch John run the ranch.

The Repubs have been mining Hollywood images to beat the band, and they’ve now got the bases covered. There’s Mama McCain, typecast at age ninety-six to play that tough pioneer mother who crossed the plains in covered wagon while her husband fought off Injuns. There’s Cindy McCain, looking like an older sister of those gals in “Sex and the City,” wearing their million-dollar fantasy fashions on their backs, feet and ears. And there’s Cowgirl Sarah riding tall in the saddle, amblin’ in from a small town in the remotest stretches of the West, to set the country straight at last after eight years of gov’ment bad guys.

But wait a minute — weren’t the Republicans in charge?

We got an image problem here, or worse, a script problem. From the beginning, cowgirls were strictly from showbiz, not reality. No woman, not even Calamity Jane, was ever actually allowed to herd cows on the Chisholm or any other trail. While Buffalo Bill Cody could make a star in 1885 of little Annie Oakley (real name Phoebe Ann Moses), it was because she was a sharpshooter, not a rider or roper. As rodeos burgeoned in the next century, a number of showbiz gals like Prairie Rose Henderson got fame as “cowgirls” when they wore fancy costumes while riding a bucking horse. But they were kicked out in 1936, when rodeo cowboys under Gene Autry organized their first professional guild. From then on, girls were relegated to the roles of rodeo queens or half-time showgirls or, most ignominious of all, barrel racers.

So the Repubs are at it again, fabricating their own reality under the power of image making. So what if Cowboy George didn’t accomplish his mission? Trust us, this time we’ve got a real authentic Cowgirl Sarah riding to the rescue to save us from the bad guys. Let’s see… which ones did you say were the bad guys again?

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Posted on Sep 5, 2008