In 1999, as he was preparing his run for the White House, George W. Bush made an important purchase. The son of a president and grandson of a senator, born in Connecticut and schooled at Andover, Yale, and Harvard, bought himself a ranch. Over the next ten years, he would repeatedly bring photographers out to document him clearing brush, always with Stetson atop his head and gigantic belt buckle firmly in place.
Bush may not have been much for book learnin’, but he appreciated the power of political iconography. The cowboy, he knew, is perhaps the most potent American archetype, the hero whose story speaks to everything many Americans want to believe about themselves and their country. And today, the newest star of the Republican party has more cowboy in his little finger than Bush had in his whole being - for better and for worse. As a candidate, Texas governor Rick Perry will be enacting a particular performance of masculinity, one that will resonate powerfully with some people - especially white men - even as it alienates others.