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August 18, 2011

Elizabeth Warren Cowgirls Up

If you peruse the images on Elizabeth Warren’s newly created campaign Facebook page (or perhaps I should call it an exploratory committee FB page), you’ll see a lot of “cowgirling up.” Doesn’t seem like a go-to image for a 61-year-old female Harvard economist running for public office in  . . . Massachusetts. Additionally, the images she’s showcasing remind viewers of the last political battle she failed to win when President Obama chose former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Warren took, as noted by the Wall Street Journal, “from concept to creation.”

Whereas Obama’s numbers are tanking, his snub of Warren seems to have made her even more popular with progressive voters. The controversy boosted her name recognition, and progressives who’ve had it with Obama relish the thought of reclaiming the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Scott Brown by (as the New York Times put it) “sending against him a woman who has won considerable acclaim and popularity among liberals for taking on the financial industry.”

But why the Western motif?

After Texan Rick Perry galloped away with Michelle Bachmann’s Iowa thunder, perhaps Warren realized that the “don’t mess with  . . .” message plays well above the Mason-Dixon line too. Richard Slotkin’s book Gunfighter Nation explains that the frontier myth has “broad appeal and persuasive power,”  in part because it is comprised of “a set of symbols that is apparently simple yet capable of varied and complex uses,” and because it “serves with equal facility the requirements of progressives and conservatives.”  And although the image of the lone cowboy is steeped in masculinity, the image is elastic enough to be deployed by female politicians (think Ann Richards and—to a lesser extent—Sarah Palin).

So, Warren has decided to roust her “posse” against the Massachusetts Republican incumbent rather than corporate criminals (not everyone sees a clear distinction between the two, of course). In proudly redeploying the images created for her campaign to head the CFPB, Warren paradoxically distances herself from the baggage of close ties to an unpopular Obama, suggesting that someday there could be a new Democratic sheriff in town.

– Karrin Anderson

(images: Elizabeth Warren Facebook page)

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