“Young Guns” and the Squire of Gothos

Gen. Trelane (ret.) -- The Original GOP Young Gun

By now it is pretty obvious that the House GOP leadership is essentially devoid of ideas outside of Social Darwinism and Objectivism.  But I noticed the other day that its cultural pose is also one of pure puffery.

Consider “Young Guns,” the “book” theoretically authored by Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, and Kevin McCarthy.  “Young Guns” was also their term for Republican challengers to Democratic House members.  Notice something?

Neither Cantor, McCarthy, nor Ryan ever served in the military.  Essentially, all three are career party apparatchiks — Ryan and McCarthy were congressional aides; Cantor “worked” in the family’s real estate business for a while, but essentially, he graduated from law school and immediately started running for the state legislature.

There’s nothing wrong with that, although for people who claim that the private sector is so great, they sure have managed to stay far away from it.  But to avoid service while affecting a pose of military toughness is really quite pathetic.  And no wonder that Republican national security policy is really more about seeming tough — torture the bastards! — than understanding reality.  It is policy as wish fulfillment-fantasy.

It reminds me of a classic Star Trek episode, “The Squire of Gothos.”  Captain Kirk and the crew find themselves on a planet with a man who introduces himself as a General, challenges them to duels, and likes to re-enacts battles.  By the end of the episode, it becomes clear that he is quite literally a child, and his incorporeal parents send him, whining, back to his room.

Recall the architects of the disastrous Bush national security policies.  With the important exception of Rumsfeld, none of the neocons ever served.  Cheney famously got five deferments.  Wolfowitz never served.  Neither did Feith.  Neither did Libby.  Nor did Haynes, or Bybee, or Yoo.  Addington dropped out of the Naval Academy after less than a year.  Those who fought hardest against the administration from within, however, were usually the career military people — Eric Shinseki (now Veterans’ Affairs Secretary), the JAGs of all the services.

You would think that at some level, the House Republican military peacocks might be a little sheepish about this.  But no.  They advertise it.  There is something either deeply disturbing, or deeply fatuous, or both, here.

A couple of the GOP Congressmembers advanced by the “Young Guns” program did serve: Tom Rooney and Pete Sessions come to mind.  And as I said, I don’t think that it says something bad about someone that they didn’t serve.  I didn’t serve.  But there is something childish about those who did not serve then puffing up their military bearing.

Put another way, maybe we should acknowledge that Cantor, McCarthy, and Ryan are indeed “Young Guns.”  But the armaments are pop guns, and they are very, very young indeed.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

9 thoughts on ““Young Guns” and the Squire of Gothos”

  1. Brilliant. Something too with the incorporeal parents, and the conservative fascination with abstract, simplistic naïveté and black and white thinking. Interesting also, the reliance on low-level authority, as in following rules *because they are rules*, as opposed to higher-order critical analysis and objective reflection.

  2. You have hit the nail on the head. I’ve long thought this explained a lot about how the Cheney-Bush administration dealt with the truly scary experience of 9/11. And I always think of a Stewart Alsop column, written during Watergate, in which he said that, during his OSS experience in France, he’d learned that there were two kinds of people dangerous to have on your team: the Phony Tough (Watergate example, John Mitchell), who were always claiming they were tough, and the Crazy Brave (G. G. Liddy), who really were willing to do anything. Dick Cheney seems like the perfect PT type: spent his career piloting a desk, and always willing to make “tough decisions”–but, I’ll bet, never ones that carried a downside to himself.

  3. Umm . . . as far as I know, “Young Guns” is a reference to the Western movie of that name, in which a pack of young men seek justice against a corrupt town government, not a reference to military service.

    I don’t think that this was a very good choice either–one of the young guns was William H. Bonney. But they aren’t claiming the mantle of military service; they’re claiming the mantle of the American frontier.

  4. @Megan McArdle — It’s a pretty old phrase. I first heard it in 1982, in a Wham!UK song (which dates me, I know). Was that anticipatory plaigiarism on George Michael’s part? In any event, the childishness and absurdity still stands: none of them has any law enforcement experience, either. It’s all play-acting.

    And by the way, if it’s based on the movie, which one of them is Charlie Sheen?

  5. Reminds me of my favorite Star Trek episode metaphor for libertarianism: A Piece of the Action, where the inhabitants slavishly adhere to one book, and some of the commenters here and elsewhere seem to be playing the hand-waving and purposely dissembling Fizzbin in their argumentation, making it up as they go along.

  6. “You would think that at some level, the House Republican military peacocks might be a little sheepish about this.”

    Peacocks? Isn’t the appropriate avian reference chicken hawks?

  7. It’s a bit of a stretch to conflate the phrase with either the military or law enforcement.

    The phrase has been around long enough to have more generalized meanings.

    Young gun(s):

    • A new or rising talent or star.

    • A young person who is good enough to be able to compete with older more experienced people.

    • A young man perceived as assertive and aggressively self-confident.

    • An up-and-coming young man, esp one considered as being assertive and confident.

    • An assertive and self-confident young person.

    • People, especially young men, who have lots of energy and talent, and are becoming very successful.

  8. I think Megan is going in the right direction here. The idea that the GOP should be modeling themselves after a band of lawless killers for hire is in line with the rest of their posturing. Interestingly enough, the term for committed youthful reformers used to be “young Turks” after the politicians who modernized that country’s government. But it probably wouldn’t play in Coeur D’alene.

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