Back in the heyday of western movies (before Brokeback Mountain, lets say), no horse opera would be complete without a noisy gang of dirty, horny drovers or desperadoes shooting up a peaceful little town just for the hell of it.
Then a brave lawman and/or an honest judge backs them down and restores the peace as everyone rides off into the western sunset.
The myriad variations on this plot line have this in common: The outlaw is an archetype for freedom, and the sheriff is an archetype for order. Its no accident that Dorothy Johnson named her antagonist Liberty when she wrote “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance”.
Let’s examine the political climate in Wyoming today, using John Ford’s masterpiece adaptation of Johnson’s novel as our Cliff Notes. Shinbone is trying to grow up as a frontier town and Liberty Valance doesn’t want that to happen.
The outlaw and his sidekicks attack every institution in town – the legal system, the press, democracy, sovereign statehood and education – just so they can have Shinbone to themselves. So they can be free.
Its hard not to have Liberty Valance and his crew in mind when I hear of some of the antics of Wyoming’s GOP firebrands.
Sen. Anthony “Romeo” Bouchard could play Liberty himself, strutting around town shooting off his guns and mouth, and skulking and whining when he is called out. I can easily see him trashing the office of The Shinbone Star because he didn’t like what was printed about him.
Another Wyoming Senator could portray that malevolent Lee Van Cleef character, squinting and whispering that quasi-religious death chant from another movie – “Boondock Saints”. This is how Sen. Tom “Boondock” James acquires his gang name. And he gives the gang their name – “Gang of Six”.
The weaselly little Strother Martin character who moans in arousal, “Kill him, Liberty. Kill him.” would aptly be played by Rep. John Romero-Martinez. In fact, there would probably an Oscar in it for him.
Sen. Troy “Third Rib” McKeown would be standing right behind Liberty, fondling his bayonet. And all the rest of Wyoming’s Republican firebrands flash gang signs and fire off their six guns as they try to tear down the civil order in Shinbone.
The Valance Gang and our own political desperadoes have much in common. Neither outfit is a fan of civil discourse or legal niceties. Each considers any rule of social order as a huge bite taken out of their personal freedom. They both rely on their reptile brain instead of the cerebral cortex and prefer emotion to reason.
And when a John Wayne lawman or legislative leadership backs them down, they whine and pout about how things just ain’t fair. They cry about being picked upon. Both the Valance Gang and Wyoming’s GOP firebrands can play the part of the victim at the drop of a Stetson.
I use “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” often because I consider it the finest western ever made. I will dance on Clint Eastwood’s coffee table in my Tony Lamas and testify that John Ford is the best western director who ever lived.
The film touches on all the aspects of a wild region civilizing itself – law, education, suffrage, history, ethnicity, free press, politics, property, cowboy heartbreak…all of it – and if you haven’t yet watched it, there’s still time.
Ford’s film also eloquently describes the forces at work opposing social order in favor of liberty in the American West.
From this film we get the old saw, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”, a quote that defines, to me, how we think about the West.
That’s another thing that Liberty’s gang has in common with our own Republican “Gang of Six” or whatever they call themselves…both outfits prefer to live in the legends of the past. Both gangs would choose a world where a man can shoot off his gun or mouth at anything he wants to, without consequence, because he is free.
Both crews have outlived their times. And their usefulness.
Until “Romeo” Bouchard, “Boondock” James, “Third Rib” McKeown and the rest of that noisy, ill-mannered crew can behave themselves and act like adults, they need to be relegated to the kids’ table where they can throw food and pitch hissy-fits at each other ‘til the cows come home..
Meanwhile back at the ranch, the rest of us have a state to run.