present the colors

Before each rodeo during the National Western Stock Show in Denver, riders present the American flag.

Normally, I’d be talking about getting my boots shined, the $6 corn dog I like, what time the next rodeo starts, who's riding and how he finished at the National Finals last month.

Nothing is normal anymore. Just as the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo moved online this year, the other pile I won't be stepping in is the Colorado General Assembly. The General Assembly gaveled in on Jan. 13, before gaveling out two days later. They're not expected back until Feb. 16, to let the virus subside and vaccines take hold.

The National Western's 115th show still played host to politics and fundraising this year, without the benefit of a 700,000-person audience. Organizers desperately hope they're back next year.

Rodeo and state government aren't all that different in a lot of ways, though. You have the bull riders and clowns, the show ponies and the colts, the dust and mud versus the smoke and mirrors. 

Politics and barnyards go hand-in-hand all over the place, and not just in the muck.

Al Gore dipped into it in Aspen talked about climate change deniers a decade ago.

"And so what do they do?" the exasperated former vice president asked. "They pay pseudo-scientists to pretend to be scientists to put out the message: 'This climate thing, it's nonsense. Man-made CO2 doesn't trap heat ... It may be volcanoes.' Bulls--t! 'It may be sun spots.' Bulls--t! 'It's not getting warmer.' Bulls--t!"

He pivoted to the coming meme literacy.

"There are about 10 other memes that are out there, and when you go and talk to any audience about climate, you hear them washing back at you the same crap, over and over and over again. They have polluted (with) this s--t. There is no longer shared reality on an issue like climate, even though the very existence of our civilization is threatened."

And it was just last week that the Western Slope's newest congressional representative, Lauren Boebert, used toned-down version of the barnyard epithet when she opposed President Trump's impeachment.

“I call bull crap when I hear the Democrats demanding unity,” Boebert declared.

Less is more when you're dealing with animals, and the same is true with government.

You can avoid a barn, but with government, you're not so lucky. It's easy enough to get your steak with a potato and house salad and never to have looked in the big brown eyes of your future dinner. 

“Take Action to Help End Rodeos,” urges the National Humane Education Society.

Step one: “Never attend a rodeo or similar event.”

The government? You’re not so lucky. 

Gene Autry got public policy right in 1948, when he recited the Cowboy Code.

"The cowboy must respect women, his parents and our nation's laws," said the singing cowboy.

"The cowboy must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas." 

Lastly among 10 virtues, "The cowboy is a patriot."

My friend Baxter Black, the cowboy poet, Western philosopher and former large-animal veterinarian, tends to be uncomfortable spouting off about the politics of the moment. It makes enemies of half his friends and brings his integrity into question, he said. Baxter spoke to the National Western Stock Show in a virtual event this year. The show is where I usually see him.

He used to ply his veterinary trade in the boonies, as he might put it, north of Denver. A few appearances on "The Tonight Show" changes a man, so now he lives in rural southern Arizona.

Some years back a friend pressed Baxter into an endorsement for a local race. He obliged.

“Friends, are you tired of bitter partisan politics, city council members treating each other like shoplifters, politicians barking like dogs and spraying paint on their opponents' ‘elect me’ signs?” he said on National Public Radio in 2004. “Have narrow minds and boring cliches become the norm of political discourse? Maybe it’s time to inject some civility into the city council.

“Abby X has devoted herself to remaining polite in the face of adversity, to turning the other check to rudeness, to ignoring boorish behavior. As she has always said, ‘The fork goes on the left. You say please and thank you and ask to be excused when you’re done.' Is that too much to ask?”

It shouldn't be. Since Baxter first dipped his toe into politics, a lot has changed, and not for the better.

Hostility is a horse that can't be broken. Some political animals are like that, too.

When I was a kid, my pop decided we could make a mint of chinchilla fur. He bought a bunch of caged chinchillas from a traveling salesman who didn't give him all the facts, like how Bolivian mountain rats labor in the Deep South heat. Those little biters were constantly in a bad mood. All the grandchildren of a certain age still have nightmares.

Pop bought air conditioning for the chinchillas, and that's how we eventually got air conditioning in the house, after the chinchillas died. We kept our side ventures small after that, including a failed worm farm. Not making that up.

And that's perhaps the biggest common denominator between the Denver's gold dome and your ranch-variety barn: Government never learns the lesson of good money after screeching mountain rats.

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