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Oh, yeah? Well yippie-yi-o-ki-yay to you, too  Now wait jest a dadbern minute. Exactly what's so all-blame wrong with being a cowboy anyway is what I'm-a wontin' t'know?

June 3, 2002 by Kathleen Parker

I can picture "Gunsmoke's" squinty-eyed, skeptical Festus, slapping his hat against his thigh, waiting for Marshal Matt Dillon to explain how come everybody suddenly hates cowboys these days. Marshal Dillon wipes the sweat from his brow, shakes his head slowly and says: "Festus, the world isn't easy to explain. I guess we just have to keep fighting for law and order and hope the good guys win."

Not since the Clanton Gang rode into Tombstone have cowboys been so maligned. When President George Bush said he'd take Osama bin Laden "dead or alive," critics pejoratively said, "Why, he's acting like a cowboy." When he declared Iran, Iraq and North Korea the "axis of evil," they said Bush was practicing "cowboy diplomacy."

Now, as Bush asks other countries to end nuclear and arms cooperation with Tehran, notoriously sensitive Iran is complaining that the U.S. president is "acting like a sheriff in the Wild West."

And their point would be? Were they hoping for something more au courant, say, a totalitarian fascist dictator wearing a checkered gutra and riding a camel?

"Bush thinks he is still living in the age of the cowboys, and that the world is like Texas with him as its sheriff," said Iran's Defense Minister Ali Shamkhani. "He must know the time of cowboys is over." Not in Texas, it's not. And not in most of the United States. Remember the red states, the states that voted for Bush in the last election? That vast flyover stretch between D.C. and L.A.? Cowboys and cowgirls. And besides, as Festus might have asked, what exactly is wrong with cowboys?

I don't know what TV shows Shamkhani grew up on, but in this neck of the woods, most taxpaying Americans grew up watching cowboy shows. Before there was Ally McBeal and girls seeking sex in the city, there were guys on horses doing good deeds: the Lone Ranger, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers. The Cartwrights. God I loved those guys. Adam, Hoss, (sniffle) Little Joe, Ben. Hankie anyone?

We kind of like our cowboys over here and, not incidentally, our cheeseburgers. It's hard to have one without the other. Moreover, cowboys are the good guys, remember?

Sure, cowboys and Indians had their disagreements (not to be confused with unconscionable government policies toward indigenous Americans). And it's true that a few cowboys became outlaws and gunslingers. But the real cowboy, the genuine driver of cattle across lonely, death-around-every-corner prairies and torrential rivers was the American heroic prototype -strong, brave, trustworthy, loyal, wise, resourceful, self-reliant and dutiful. Sort of like a Boy Scout, except not as clean.

The cowboy spirit, which is alive and well in America and anathema to the axis countries and others who hate us, is characterized by freedom; that cliché that was born of good reason, rugged individualism. The cowboy cherishes freedom above all else, as do most Americans.

No wonder they hate us. And no wonder "cowboy" has become an epithet from the freedom-hating masses. If you want to insult an American, they must figure, call him a cowboy, yeah, that'll show him.

One might disagree with Bush's policy toward Iran, though I can't imagine why. Cowboys hate state-sponsored terrorism. One might find legitimate reasons to fault Bush for asking Russia to stop helping Iran develop nuclear power plants, though I can't think of one.

But averring that Bush is a cowboy is like saying he's an honorable man whose word is his bond. Whoa, that hurts.

The intended suggestion is that Bush is not a modern man, that he hasn't evolved, that he doesn't grasp the nuances of diplomacy in a global environment. What it really means, of course, is that Bush is following through on his promise: The United States cannot and will not tolerate hostile countries' developing weapons of mass destruction. Sorry, pals, but that's the way it is. Bad guys don't get to play with the big guns.

Thanks to terrorists, the world has become a global Dodge City. Lucky for us that a Wild West sheriff is in charge.

Kathleen Parker has contributed to more than a dozen newspapers and magazines during her 20 years as a journalist. She began twice-weekly commentary column in 1987 as a staff writer for The Orlando Sentinel. After entering into syndication in 1995, her column rocketed in popularity and now appears in more than 300 papers nationwide.

Parker's many awards for her incisive commentary include Best Columnist from the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors, and First Place, Division 3 in the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors' Ninth Annual Writing Awards competition, both in 1997. In 1993, she won the H. L. Mencken Writing Award issued by The Baltimore Sun. The judges praised Parker for "singing another note on the subject of family values and following the tradition of H. L. Mencken in attacking ignorance and stupidity with vividness and originality."