05/31/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Take Off That Hat, Dick Cheney

The litany of losses suffered by the nation under the Bush-Cheney administration has been -- and continues to be -- well-documented. To that list we now have one more addition. It does not sear the heart like the loss of a child in a senseless war, or rip your pins out from under you like the looting of your pension fund ... but it is one more drop of sadness into the well of hurt these stone liars and media manipulators have dug for us.

We have lost the Cowboy.

Dick Cheney wearing a cowboy hat last week while delivering the commencement address to the Coast Guard Academy graduates was the last gasp of an American icon.

The Bush Gang was not the first to appropriate cowboy iconography for politics. Ronnie Reagan got the wagon trains rolling back in his acting days. LBJ often donned a Stetson hat and assumed a cowboy posture. Teddy Roosevelt, of course, rode with the Rough Riders. But the Bush Gang and its posse of Beltway Bandits have been the ones to finally gun down our once-powerful ideal of the American Cowboy and send it to Boot Hill.

Most of what I know about cowboys I learned from my father, a farmer and serial entrepreneur from Indiana who was known locally as Cowboy Bob, both for his love of horses, and for how he embodied the spirit of the movie cowboy heroes of his youth.

Cowboys, as I came to know them, were kind-hearted -- and the more down on your luck you were, the kinder they treated you. They had nothing to prove to anyone, because they knew exactly who they were and what they stood for. They worked hard, and never took vacations. There was no vacation from being a cowboy.

They did not go looking for fights or provoke them, and when there was a fight, they could settle it without firing a shot or throwing a punch. Thus was their presence, their strength of character. They knew that actions spoke louder than words, and that silence could be the most eloquent statement of all.

They owned the wisdom and humility a person could only acquire after many, many nights under the stars pondering one's small place in a great big universe.

They enjoyed drinking whiskey, laughing loudly, and singing around the campfire with their friends and family.

Their love of their horses expressed what a Cowboy could not very often put into words. A horse embodied the highest virtues -- of honesty and beauty and valor. To a cowboy, a good horse was the surest proof that God exists, and the love of the horse was nothing less than a love of God.

Today, with eight years of sheriffing and shooting-up turning this country into a modern version of the Tombstone Territory, to be called a cowboy has, almost impossibly it seems to me, become some kind of slur. To be a 'cowboy' in the popular lexicon, is to be unpredictable, a sketchy character, a hired gun willing to sell out to the highest bidder or the lowest deal. A threat to the community. This is the 'cowboy' America has become in the eyes of the world.

I do not know who these people are -- these people who shoot their friends in the face, hire mercenaries to fight their fights for them, clear brush as a photo op, and go spoiling for fights as a way of exerting their authority. But I know for a solid certainty they have not earned the honor of wearing a cowboy hat. When these characters are no longer in the saddle maybe the true Cowboys will once again ride proudly at the head of the American parade.

Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers -- Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is