MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Are you old enough to remember the rugged cowboy individualism Madison Avenue creation of the Marlboro Man? The ads became an iconic symbol of the widespread US myth of tough, masculine independence from others in society.
In many ways, the Marlboro Man merged with the carefully crafted image of Ronald Reagan. Just think about all the photos of him horseback riding on his ranch, for example. This Marlboro Man resonance was captured by BuzzFlash in a photo taken at the entrance to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California (see below), included in a 2008 commentary.
What is ironic, in a tragic way, is how at least three of the men who posed, over the years, as the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer and lung disease, as The Guardian revealed in a 2014 article.
The Marlboro Man ad campaign; the creation of a mythic champion - Ronald Reagan - of a United States where only the individual and wealth counts; and the deaths of millions and millions of people in the US over the years, lured to smoking by the Madison Avenue "Mad Man" image of a virile male who relies on no one but himself: These pieces of the puzzle of US cultural and political history - when assembled together - reveal a tragic narrative that still guides so many people in the US.
That is why it is always so refreshing to receive one of Elizabeth Warren's emails to her followers and the media. The senator from Massachusetts provides an anodyne to the idea that only the financially successful individual is of value to society - and that the rest of those in the US are disposable.
In an email from Warren's office that BuzzFlash received on April 10, she writes:
Government matters. Kids tell me say they did everything they were supposed to do - worked hard and got a good education, but now they are worried that they will never dig out of their mountains of student loan debt.
Seniors stop me on the street. They tell me they worked really hard their whole lives, but now they are in constant fear of how they’ll make it if Congress cuts their Social Security checks.
Fast-food workers tell me they don’t have time to stop and say hello, let alone call or visit one of my offices. They’re too busy and too exhausted working two or three jobs trying to pay the rent and keep groceries on the table.
Student loans. Social Security. Minimum wage. Government matters. We the people need a government that works for the people. This isn’t about big government versus small government. This is about whether we’re going to have a government that works only for the rich and powerful, or a government that works for everyone.
These statements recall Warren's rousing recurrent declaration that, "We are all in this together." In a Tea Party and right-wing world, we are abandoned to the lure of the Marlboro Man. In Elizabeth Warren's world, it is the obligation of the government to warn us that tobacco causes deaths in the millions and multiple health hazards.
In response to the myth of rugged individualism, Warren offers the reality that it's not a question of big or small government, it's a question of who the government works for.
That in itself is a tonic and a rejoinder to the Ayn Randian shibboleths about government being the enemy.