Long before counterinsurgency theorists discovered the phrase, Hollywood was already practicing asymmetric warfare. This occurs when two dissimilar protagonists collide, each more implausible than the other. First there was the Wolfman vs Dracula. This was followed, in no particular order by King Kong vs Godzilla, Abbott and Costello vs Frankenstein and Billy the Kid vs Dracula. The trend intensified rather than declined over the years. Now we have Alien vs Predator, Cowboys vs Alien and various teenage movies depicting werewolves versus vampires.
You might say it’s crazy but billions of box office dollars have been made off of such improbable contests. But now the trend has spread to politics — and things have, if possible, gotten worse — and commentators are watching, with growing fascination and horror the match-up between the Stage Curtain and the Three Stooges.
It all began when President Obama made a strange discovery. People like him better when he’s not there. Victor Davis Hanson explains this bizarre phenomenon:
President Obama went into a deep slumber in December. When he woke up this January, he found himself back even in the polls, with neither a press conference nor another overhyped presidential televised address to be heard. Sleep, quiet, and solitude — all that appears wiser than campaigning, visibility, and speaking, both for Obama and Americans. In short, the president has really hit on something: an Obama going into a Rip Van Winkle somnolent state might just mean waking up again as president …
While the Republicans were tearing each other up in Iowa, to the delight of the liberal media, Barack Obama said not much at all from Hawaii. He did not have to, given that no Republican was offering a simple anti-Obama plan to drill for gas and oil as never before, repeal Obamacare, balance the budget, reform the tax code, and redo Social Security and Medicare. Instead his would-be opponents argued over who voted for what fifteen years ago.
In other words the president found that the audience liked things better when he was offstage and all they could see was the stage curtain. Then the press, like a Greek chorus chanting offstage, could take the audiences imagination into flights of fancy about what the Great Obama was thinking in Hawaii or while walking on the 17th fairway. They could let the spectator’s minds fill in the rest — essentially turning Democratic presidential politics into a radio play played against the backdrop of the stage curtain. In the meantime the Republicans performed a creditable imitation of the Three Stooges. It was a live action performance which went something like this:
Moe: Is there anything you won’t bet on?
Larry: Yeah, a winner.
Curly Joe: Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk!
Unsurprisingly some of the audience found the imaginary drama preferable to the slapstick antics of the players that they could actually see. You would think that President Obama would let the Stage Curtain keep thrashing the Three Stooges. But no. As John Podhoretz argues, the President’s ego was too big for that. He won’t leave well enough alone and wants to step into the limelight again and give his best impression of Lawrence Olivier. And this, Podhoretz explains, could be a problem.
President Obama’s executive power-grab this week — making four “recess” appointments when the Senate isn’t in recess — is a mark not of his strength, but of his relative weakness. He is asserting an authority he does not possess through the Constitution because he has precious little personal authority left to assert.
He had it and he lost it, and he can’t figure out how to get it back — so he’s just going to take it.
“When Congress refuses to act, and as a result hurts our economy and puts people at risk, I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them,” Obama said Wednesday as he trumpeted his installation of Richard Cordray as head of his new consumer-activism bureau.
Podhoretz argues that the President actually can’t believe the stage curtain is beating the Stooges. And so he’s planning his comeback. This may actually be a bad move because the audiences will once again get to see the actor for the disastrous ham that he was. But like most bad actors, he and his manager, David Axelrod, would be the last to know.
So the president is going to come back under the tag line: This Time, No More Mr. Nice Guy. Having failed as Messiah and President, how about as an imitation of Hugo Chavez?
“Maybe it’s the best hand Obama has to play, but it’s not a very good hand. For one thing, the voters who have turned on him don’t think he has exercised too little power, but rather too much — so bragging about doing things without congressional sanction may not play well.” But it might bomb, then the The Stooges aren’t going to look too bad by comparison.
Victor Davis Hanson thinks the President should just go back to playing golf. That way he looks better. “Do Americans sort of like Barack Obama the more that they do not see or hear much of him — at least while they hear too much of the Republicans ripping each other apart?” Well it’s a good question.
After all, in 2008 with no record or much knowledge of his past, Obama The Idea was adored; in 2011 with a record and a fledgling history, Obama The Flesh and Blood was not. Why then not go into deep sleep, do nothing, let his surrogates loose, and let voters’ imaginations run wild with past fantasies and dreams — especially in comparison to the screeching of fratricidal Republicans that for now precludes any reexamination of a mostly disastrous presidential record since January 2009?
But of course that’s not going to happen. The President’s self-esteem is five sizes too large to accept the idea that his absence is actually better than his presence. After all, he’s already described himself as at least the fourth greatest president in American history, after Lincoln, FDR and LBJ. So with that kind of talent, he’s going to do exactly what Podhoretz describes: grab some more power and show them. “Here, hold my beer.” It’s sounds like a plan.
I’ve always wanted to share my own my favorite asymmetric matchup, Zombies versus Ninjas. You may say that it’s nothing much. But wait till you compare it to the spectacle of politics.