Why, of all the enemies of communism, would these leaders view this cowboy actor as such a threat? Throughout his career Wayne was the on-screen embodiment of the purely American ideal of rugged individualism. At 6 foot 4 he was a dominating figure both on and off the screen. His characters demonstrated both independence and virtue. In his last movie, The Shootist, the script called for Wayne's character to shoot someone in the back. Wayne's response? "I've made over 250 pictures and have never shot a guy in the back. Change it.". And so they did. Like so many actors, Wayne did not withhold his political views, and his on-screen persona seemed to be a reflection of American diplomatic posture; strength, justice, independence, freedom, individualism. Wayne made the American ethos look good, and for the communist propaganda machine that was anathema.
From the beginning America was a study in frontier dynamics. Some historians have hypothesized that what we know as the American spirit has been born out of our continually venturing out against new frontiers and challenges to our survival. Even President Obama has said that rugged individualism and a healthy skepticism of too much government are in "America's DNA". DNA aside, we are the products of our history, and our nation's history is that of individuals leaving the structure and safety of organized society to face the perils and reap the treasures of the frontier. From the earliest settlers, to the revolution, to the wagon trains and homesteading; our development as a nation has been defined by brave pioneers willing to put their lives and fortunes on the line in pursuit of dreams of freedom and prosperity.
Of course not all were pioneers. Once the settlers set up colonies and began to prosper, the Europeans were quick to demand their "piece of the pie". This eventually led to the Declaration of Independence, but it has been a pattern of the frontier that pioneers brave the unknown, and the less adventurous follow behind once the frontier has been tamed. Frontiers are not always physical, and we have faced such frontiers as the industrial revolution, and today's cyber-frontier of technology. Who are the pioneers of the present? Are they not the entrepreneurs who are willing to set aside the safety of a secure job to pursue the possibilities of a dream? And when after failures and suffering that dream succeeds and a way is made for others to follow, how can we say to that pioneer "You didn't build that"?
The President and his apologists now say that the infamous reference was taken out of context. Ignore the poor grammar and you should understand, they say, that he was referring to the roads, bridges, highways, the internet; not the successful businesses themselves. One could rightly ask if businessmen didn't build the roads, bridges, and internet as well? Where, after all, do you think that money comes from? But from the context, the President's message is clear; if you are successful, you didn't do it on your own; and since the rest of us helped you, we deserve a piece of your pie. This supposition is necessary for the justification of confiscatory taxes. If you succeeded basically on your own, through your own hard work, at your own risk, from your own ingenuity... well, then taking your money against your will would be thievery. But if your success can be attributed to the system itself, then when the system demands your profits, that's just payback. In all likelihood the same justification was used by King George, and then by Alexander Hamilton. Taxing success is pretty much the only option the government has, taxing failure is a dry well, but when that taxation becomes excessive or unjust, there are two possible outcomes. Punish any behavior enough, and you will diminish it. Punish success, or more properly the behaviors that result in success, and people may stop trying. If they continue to try, and you continue to punish them, there may come the day when they take the whip from your hand; rebellion, revolution, or just voting.
IMHO: Rather than punishing pioneers, we should be encouraging the exploration of new frontiers, like we did with the Homestead act. Providing a path toward self-sufficiency for its citizens is a laudable role for a government. Providing a way for able citizens to live off the fruits of others' labor is enabling, and the political equivalent of codependency. It is the desire for independence, to individually carve out a piece of the frontier to make your own that has created the peculiarly American psyche. Some would say that there are no more frontiers in America, that it's time for us to fade into the rest of the world. The roads are all already built, the pioneer spirit is dead, it's time to kill John Wayne. Maybe they're right, maybe that's where we're headed. The end of a way of life. As John Wayne said in Hondo, "Yup, the end of a way of life. Too bad. It's a good way." On the other hand, they never did kill the Duke, and maybe his spirit still lives on in enough of us... "Wagons forward! Yo!"