John Laird: Hey, whaddya expect from an 82-year-old cowboy?

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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photoJohn Laird is The Columbian's editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.

Many men who are in their mid-60s will say Rowdy Yates helped them endure the traumatic entry into their teen years back around 1960 or so. And several years later, Blondie helped usher that same group of young men away from home and into the dark dangers of adult life. Count me in this group.

We met our hero Mr. Yates in 1959 in "Rawhide," a TV series that ran for eight years and 217 episodes. Rowdy's life lesson to me was uplifting: If a cattle-drive cowboy could survive "rain and wind and weather, hell bent for leather, wishing my gal was by my side," then I could certainly withstand the stupid sixth-grade girls in Midland, Texas, who conspired to make my life so miserable.

Then later, just in time for our departure from adolescence, Blondie arrived to inspire us as the good in "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly." The subtitle for the 1966 spaghetti Western was rather abrasive: "For three men, the Civil War wasn't Hell. It was practice!"

We left our homes and entered adulthood the same way we left that movie theater, knowing good people can be malevolent, bad people often are the first to die in a gunfight, and ugly people can live on even after being forced at gunpoint to stand atop a gravestone wearing a noose.

As Rowdy and Blondie have continued to guide our lives five decades later, baby-boomer men were excited on Thursday night to see our old hero Clint Eastwood (who played both roles) speak to an empty-chair president and to attendees at the Republican National Convention.

Here come the experts

Sadly, Eastwood's speech unleashed a storm of derision from folks who lack proper respect for Rowdy and Blondie. After the elderly Eastwood said of the presidential campaign, "when someone doesn't do the job, you've got to let him go," his critics threw it right back in his face. They huffed that removal was what convention officials should have done instead of allowing Eastwood to turn a five-minute address into a 12-minute ramble. Well, maybe it wasn't rambling. Maybe Rowdy was just rollin', rollin', rollin'.

Rowdy and Blondie clearly don't need me defending them, but in my opinion, 82-year-old cowboys have earned the right to ramble.

I agree with nydailynews.com blogger Derek Hunter: "The media has, and will continue to tell you that Eastwood was a flop, a mistake of epic proportions. Democrats will say how horrible it was. But they both know this country holds Clint Eastwood as an icon and has done so for nearly 50 years. Real people like, trust and believe him. A tornado's worth of spin won't touch the credibility that man has earned with the American people." And if not all of the American people feel that way, then at least a bunch of men in their mid-60s who disagree vehemently about political stuff, only to unite in our awe of Rowdy and Blondie.

Yes, the good is all of 82 now. Big deal. It's a manly 82. The bad (Lee Van Cleef, or Angel Eyes in the movie) never made it past 64; he died in 1989. As for the ugly, Eli Wallach (Tuco in the movie) is 96 and 64 years into his marriage to Anne Jackson. These are the directions baby-boomer men see ourselves going. Much of our journey is enjoyable, at least for us. The rest of you will just have to put up with the rambling.

On Thursday night, younger eyes rolled while Eastwood spoke. He looked at the empty chair and snarled, "Whaddya mean shut up?" Some people probably took that as an insult to the office of the presidency.

But I took it differently. I heard it as a perfectly legitimate question for all the stupid sixth-grade girls in Midland, Texas. And I believe Rowdy deserves an answer. I also heard it as a valid query for a society that in 1966 thought 18-year-olds ought to shut up. Blondie, too, deserves an answer.

Eastwood is far from perfect. He made a few lousy movies, and we wannabe trail hands and gunslingers don't have much use for the modern action movies later in his career. But these days, the real heroes are in short supply. When old cowboys have something to say, we ought to listen.