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And the Horse He Rode In On BY MICHAEL KING I may be a poor cowboy, but I’m one helluva cowman. Clayton Williams Jr. OBODY OWNS a myth, which is why Daniel Berrigan and Jerry Falwell can both call themselves Christians, and why the Ayatollah put out a contract on Salman Rushdie: He couldn’t stand the competition. The first job of the tyrant is to seize control of the popular imagination else why all this fuss about flag-burning? For Texans, despite years of relentless proselytizing by unctuous Baptist preachers, the central cultural mythology remains that of the cowboy on the open range, “where you sleep out every night, and the only law is right.” Almost entirely a creation of popular culture dime novelists, juke-box yodelers, and six-gun shoot-em-ups the myth has never reflected a historical reality for more than a part of Texas or more than a short period of time, and might seem an odd anachronism in a state that is now predominantly urban and industrialized. But as Joseph Campbell has demonstrated, myths thrive in an interior landscape, be it sacred desert or high plains, and the cowboy sustains the common imagination, as a populist descendant of the ancient knight-errant, wandering the countryside in search of honor, adventure, and righteousness. But a myth is malleable to the needs of the historic moment, and can be adapted to the purposes of the just and the pretender alike. Somebody priest, politician, or p. r. man is always trying to steal the sacred stories, seize the key to the common tale, and bludgeon anybody else who tries to tell his own truth. Is the true cowboy the lonely hero of a thousand westerns, or is he the solemn merchant of advertised death who stares defiantly through the lethal smoke of a Marlboro? Is he the solitary migrant worker on horseback, who makes a few hundred a month to mend fences, run cattle, and eat dust, or is he Clayton Williams, Jr., the oil-and-long-distance tycoon who runs his family on a “budget” of $500,000 a year, who turned to cattle-raising as a lucrative hobby, and now Frequent Observer contributor Michael King is a writer living in Houston. This article was composed with the assistance and research of Allan Freedman. hopes to do the same with state government? “Claytie,” hardly the ingenuous and ingratiating boob that he portrays, is clearly a savvy marketing man who has been at this cowboy shtick for some time. He first entered the popular consciousness in his horseback ads for ClayDesta Communications, and he was not above riding into Austin to protest the deregulation of his chief competitor, AT&T. You heard that right, deregulation “free-marketeers” like Claytie are all for regulation, of everybody but themselves. In like manner, Williams has relentlessly beaten the drum for tougher laws and more prisons, but whines that Texas courts are too harsh on corporations. From the cheap seats, it appears that Williams is the sort of cowboy who used to be played regularly by Richard Widmark; he looks comfortable enough in the saddle, but the first chance he gets, he’ll shoot you in the back. HILE IT GOES without saying that the national press wouldn’t know a cowboy from a cowpie without a scorecard after all, they bought Ronald Reagan, whose cowpoke credentials amounted to little more than some pedestrian ads for 20-mule Team Borax one would hope that Texans could still distinguish bulls from bullcorn. By his own admission, Williams is more ranching entrepreneur than ranchhand, but he has made steady mileage out of a 10-gallon hat and an ingratiating manner, so much so that as I write he has been unofficially anointed as the front-runner in the race for the governor’s mansion. With shameless aplomb reminiscent of a barnstorming Lyndon Johnson, he flaps his ears at us from the cover of the current issue of Texas Monthly \(how much is that worth in polls trouble our breakfasts with the news that he holds a comfortable lead over the beleaguered but unbowed Ann Richards. Setting aside whether or not the state’s major dailies, who underwrite these exercises in preconception, have a vested interest in electing a conservative Republican and they do it’s also worth examining Williams’s extraordinary and sudden popularity to determine what makes him tick. How did this cutout caricature of a “bidness”-man suddenly become the latest pretender to the governor’s throne? The first answers are easy: money and Democrats. Williams’s personal fortune \($100 million, from which a governor’s race lican pockets, underwrote a relentless public presence already identifiable from his ClayDesta commercials. And the Democratic primary candidates \(particularly the losers, such a shameless bloodletting that it’s no wonder that the potential voters still view the party’s candidate with presumptive disdain. But thus far, Williams has gotten off easy, working his governmental inexperience to his advantage perceived as a fresh-faced “outsider,” he’s by definition untouched by the general disgust with all government that is now ingrained in the body politic, at least since Jimmy Carter. It’s the Reagan syndrome all over again, and regionally reinforced by the cowboy persona Williams has adopted and the media have wholeheartedly endorsed and marketed. Even his obvious gaffes the “relax-and-enjoy-it” rape remark and his dismissal of his own youthful whoring as so much boyish hijinks have been momentary flutters in a generally pattycake press treatment, epitomized by an early headline in the Dallas Morning News: “WILLIAMS ADDS TEXAS FLAVOR To CAMPAIGN.” BUT IF WILLIAMS is truly “Texan” in flavor, it should leave a bad taste in all our mouths. Thanks to Williams words “Texas” and “death penalty have come to be synonymous, as though a oncegreat republic had nothing better to do than seek out new and more efficient ways of killing people. If Williams has his way, state government will do little more than build prisons for poor thieves and lay out the red carpet for rich ones. Have you ever heard Claytie suggest “bustin’ rocks” for the bankers and speculators who have gleefully looted the state’s savings and loan industry, all in the name of deregulation and the free-market? Nope, he’s too busy demagoguing the public hysteria over teen-age drug use, although he is not himself above recounting his own barroom exploits under the influence of his drug of choice, alcohol. Their wardrobes may not match, but in the cloth of comic hypocrisy, Williams is a more-than-worthy successor to 01′ Malevolence, Bill Clements. It takes more than a 10-gallon hat and a quick trigger finger to make a real cowboy, and Williams has gone on long enough play 12 JULY 27, 1990