In the movie The Andromeda Strain, scientists discover an alien bacteria with the potential to destroy humanity. Immediately, government protocols snap into place. The nation’s greatest experts drop everything and race to their lab to work on the problem.
However, in a scene that was cut from the movie, these top-flight experts don’t race to a remote installation beneath the Nevada desert. Rather, they fly to Washington to coordinate strategy with the hands-on commander in chief.
The nation’s greatest minds nervously assemble in the Oval Office. The can-do president, all business, asks the first question. “So, whose ass should I kick?”
Okay, that didn’t happen. But it would have if Barack Obama had written the script.
By now you’ve heard what he told NBC’s Matt Lauer. “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar,” Obama said. “We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick, right?”
A creature of elite universities with a progressive’s love of technocrats, Obama is most comfortable leading colloquia of perfect-SAT-score propeller heads.
He once explained to an interviewer: “I would have loved nothing better than to simply come up with some very elegant, academically approved approach to health care. . . . But that’s not how it works in our democracy. Unfortunately, what we end up having to do is to do a lot of negotiations with a lot of different people.”
Ah, yes, damnable democracy, if only we could get that out of the way, we could really get things done. Where have I heard those arguments before? But I digress.
It’s like a Tonight Show joke.
Leno: “The president is so dorky . . . ”
Audience: “How dorky is he?”
“He’s so dorky, when he gets angry he convenes a panel of experts to tell him whose ass to kick.”
And speaking of The Tonight Show, let me reassure both editors and readers of family newspapers everywhere about my use of the word “ass.” Historian Steven Hayward reminds me that in 1979, Jimmy Carter responded to Ted Kennedy’s primary challenge by declaring he would “whip his ass.” It was one of those moments of presidential lameness that conjures the same bile of pity, schadenfreude, and heebie-jeebies one feels upon seeing a middle-aged balding dude with a long gray ponytail dancing at a rave.
Anyway, Johnny Carson repeated Carter’s ass-whipping remark in his opening monologue, without any punch line, explaining that he simply wanted to aggravate the network censors. After all, you can’t get in trouble for quoting the president of the United States accurately.
Much like the ass-whipping Jimmy Carter, Obama is in danger of becoming a figure of ridicule, which is particularly ominous for a presidency that runs almost entirely on high-octane rhetoric.
For instance, Obama recently told high school students in Kalamazoo, Mich., “Don’t make excuses. Take responsibility not just for your successes; take responsibility where you fall short as well.” As many immediately noted, this was odd advice from a man who would put the blame for the hitch in his golf swing on eight years of George W. Bush.
In that same interview with Lauer, the president said he hadn’t bothered talking to Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, because he knew Hayward would “say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.” This from the man who swore that words were magical and thought it was worth sitting down to talk with the president of Iran?
The Washington Examiner’s Chris Stirewalt says the president is caught in a “hypocrisy trap.” Obama dug a massive rhetorical hole for himself, and now anything he says amounts to digging deeper. Among his promises: He’d end partisan bickering, make the world swoon, and convince the oceans to halt their attacks on the land of George W. Bush. Instead, he’s made Washington more partisan. The world did swoon for a minute but quickly moved to shrugging and laughing. And as for the receding oceans, well, they’re filling with light-sweet crude — just one more thing the president blames Bush for.
But there is good news. Any day now, after thorough interagency review, the Standing Committee for Posterior Selection will have given provisional approval for a working list of asses for POTUS to kick with an OSHA-approved shoe. Alas, final environmental-impact statements are pending. But once that hurdle is cleared, the president will focus like a laser on ass-kicking.
– Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. © 2010 Tribune Media Services, Inc.