Hi...for those who may be interested, I humbly proffer the following: My most recent column for North Star Writers - basically my take on what the defeat of McCain means in a broader sense (as if you don't get enough of that kind of thing around here already).
In any event, I'd be curious to know what y'all think.
CAN AMERICA PLEASE GROW UP NOW?
David B. Livingstone
To the relief of the mature, civilized world – that is, the world beyond the territorial borders of the United States – it is starting to look as if the clumsy, belligerent bully on the international block may be finally forced into something resembling adulthood. By all appearances, Americans seem poised to elect Barack Obama as George W. Bush’s successor in the oval office, a turn of events seemingly inconceivable a few short years ago; with this seismic shift in the American political landscape, a curtain will finally and permanantly fall upon arguably the most puerile, self-absorbed, and wilfully ignorant period in this country’s history, the era of Cowboy Conservatism.
Failed actor Ronald Wilson Reagan was elected to the presidency in 1980 on the strength of his career’s single solid performance: His reinvention of himself as the grandfatherly, straight-talking spiritual heir to an earlier generation of rough-and-ready politicians. Where a man such as Theodore Roosevelt came by his plainspoken populist credentials and his rough-hewn, saddle-born public image organically, Reagan could only offer a cardboard-cutout approximation honed on a Hollywood backlot; nonetheless, a country battered by Nixonian scandal and Carter-era incompetence, fearfully searching for a savior to lead it out of its "malaise" (to cite Carter’s term), would prove more than receptive to the charms of the vague, vacantly-cheerful Californian.
Apart from denoting a sharp rightward shift in the sentiments of the American electorate, the election of Reagan marked the institutionalization of the Cowboy Conservative meme. Even absent its "Great Communicator," the Republican party would succeed in recycling this manufactured mythos through two subsequent presidencies and in countless senatorial and congressional contests, culminating in the successful re-imagining of east-coast frat boy George W. Bush as a rugged texas rancher. As a quintessentially American mythology resonant throughout popular culture, the John-Wayne-as-commander-in-chief seemed almost magical in its ability to continually reinforce itself; a populace eager to view itself, against all reason, as a band of hardy individualists seemed endlessly willing to continually reinvest its faith into an ideology responsible for the disappearance of their jobs, the decimation of their constitutional rights, and the erosion of their standard of living provided it continued to be packaged and sold under the cowboy brand.
Unfortunately for latterday pretend-cowpoke John McCain repetition and dilution have a corrosive effect upon even the most beloved of brands, and was McCain’s misfortune to saddle himself with this shopworn myth, even as it became evident that it was clearly well on its way to joining "Gunsmoke" and Twenty Mule Team Borax in oblivion. As America’s population of Marshal Dillon-reared white people ages and dwindles, Cowboy Conservatism’s market appeal becomes ever further restricted to a narrow niche of the electorate who are somehow capable of maintaining the unweildly construct of illusion layered upon illusion that is required in order to fully believe in the exceptionalism and entitlement the myth promises.
This infantile, ill-fitting belief system, rooted in narcissistic self-involvement, may have been comforting for a television-fixated populace incapable or unwilling to acknowledge the grimmer realities of American life, but it certainly ensured that the inevitable ultimate reckoning with certain long-denied facts would be be more painful than it might have been. It was Cowboy Conservatism that led the U.S. into two failed wars and massive economic collapse; it now seems apparent to all but the most fervent Palinites that it will take something more substantive than a shopworn myth to lead it back out again.
There are already efforts afoot to follow one catastrophic long-term delusion with another: Given its way, the mediocracy will more than happily saddle Barack Obama, should he be elected, with a destructive mythos of his own, as the second coming of a JFK or FDR. For the good of the country and of the wider world, one can only hope that Obama resolutely rejects such efforts. The challenges America faces in 2008 call for more than palliative infantile mythmaking; they demand a task-oriented, committed, adult approach focused upon long term solutions. Neither cowboys nor Camelot are up to that task.