Rick Perry’s dramatic entrance into the Republican presidential race has triggered within a few short weeks a remarkable amount of invective, clucking, and alarm on the part of leading critics. Perry, we are told in worried tones, cannot and must not win the presidency: he is too Texan, too Christian, too “extreme,” and altogether too provincial. Never mind that these concerns issue mainly from a Northeastern liberal-leaning commentariat that is amazingly inward-looking in its definition of worldly wisdom. The central fear seems to be that Perry is another George W. Bush – in a word, a cowboy.
It has been interesting to watch the word cowboy become a term of abuse, politically, over the last decade. Critics often described Bush’s foreign policy approach, in particular, as reckless, unthinking or bombastic – a case of “cowboy diplomacy.” My guess is that the vast majority of people employing this term have never met an actual cowboy. Real North American cowboys are often very deliberate and measured when they speak, but they do tend to have limited patience for being pushed around – a combination of qualities as useful in foreign policy as in life.