Against a historiography that too often considers domestic policy apart from foreign policy, this essay suggests connections based on two cultural/political archetypes, the cowboy and the welfare queen, which were or are simultaneously gendered and racialized. The cowboy as a symbol of white male individualism has represented worthy American manhood; the welfare queen has stood for a despised black womanhood. Behind the image of the cowboy stands the workings of empire; behind the portrait of the welfare queen lies the punishment of poor women, often African American or Latina, for their motherhood, sexuality, and lack of dependence on husbands. The problem with the welfare queen is that she parlayed her dependence on the state into independence from men and employment (that is, work as commonly understood.) Like the enemies without, who would make the nation dependent through withholding a vital resource – oil – and require disciplining through “cowboy diplomacy,” welfare dependents have become the primitive other, politically assaulted, responsible for national decline, who need taming through cowboy social policy. Drawing upon newspaper accounts, blogs, speeches, and iconographic representations, this essay traces the ways that modern Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II, deployed these icons to push independence as a national virtue in spite of their apparently different political positions. The languages of independence and dependence provided an easy vocabulary for policymaking that aspires to moral heights, leading to a performativity that traps those who utter the tropes of their predecessors into policy grooves not necessarily of their own choosing.