In the film Gladiator, the mad emperor Commodus, enraged that his enemy has won popular acclaim, is soothed by his sister, who notes that "the mob is fickle, brother." President Obama is quickly discovering this to be true as the supposed mandate that brought him to power begins to crumble. Imperial Rome maintained all the trappings of a republic -- the toothless Senate continued to meet, and no emperor would dare call himself king. And the mob, citizens all, had their say -- they could not be entirely ignored, even if they were pretty erratic.
President Obama, would-be king, rules today. He is not a king in name, but in royal trappings, from the columned pseudo-temple upon which he claimed his party's nomination to his distant, imperious manner. He even one-upped Caesar, named not merely a god (with a small "g") during his reign, but "God" himself -- by no less than the famous Newsweek newsman Evan Thomas. Okay, to be entirely accurate, Thomas said Obama was just "sort of God"...but then maybe Thomas is only "sort of" a journalist.
Like a Roman imperator, Obama watches a toothless Senate obey his will while he ramps up show trials of American enemies -- not to demonstrate American fairness, but to demonstrate his own political power and show who is in control. The audience for the show trial is never primarily foreign, but domestic. The audience is the mob.
But even a "sort of God" has to be careful. The mob is indeed fickle, and it doesn't always pay close attention. Elected with an assumed mandate to close Guantánamo, end the war on terror, and generally undo the work of his predecessor, Obama has increasingly run into a different reality. How was he to know, absent truly divine prescience? A year ago, if you randomly gathered a bunch of Americans in a room -- say, on the Oprah Winfrey or Bill Maher television shows -- they'd all have had nothing but bad things to say about President Bush, from toddler to grandma, from lowest IQ to highest. It was a mob mentality -- but it's easy to ignore the phenomenon when the mob is against the other guy.
Obama hesitated for a week to acknowledge that Flight 253 bomber Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab is linked to al-Qaeda (although the organization claimed responsibility right away), referring to him as an "isolated extremist," not a terrorist. Well, he certainly was not isolated enough, since he managed to come by a sophisticated bomb and a plane full of passengers, but let's just put that down to Obama's famous rhetorical flourish. Now Obama acknowledges that the country is "at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred," although it is unclear at this point whether the president is referring to al-Qaeda or FOX News. Whether Abdulmutallab is an isolated extremist or no, perhaps Obama is out to prove Emerson correct in that foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. He will accord Abdulmutallab the same rights that Khalid Sheik Mohammed will have at his show trial. Charles Krauthammer, a consistently sensible man, railed against this absurdity, pointing out that had we found "Abdulmutallab in an al-Qaeda training camp in Yemen, where he is merely preparing for a terror attack, we [would] snuff him out ... no judge, no jury, no qualms." But having captured him in the act of mass murder over an American city, he is now accorded all the rights and privileges of a citizen, including the right to an attorney and to remain silent. Enter the mob. A Rassmussen poll now says 58% of those interviewed want Abdulmutallab waterboarded. Only 30% of respondents opposed waterboarding, and 12% can't make up their minds. Fully 71% of respondents want Abdulmutallab's case handled by the military as a terrorist act, not by civilian authorities. Hey, Obama might be entitled to ask, did everybody just forget about Khalid Sheik Mohammed? He actually killed nearly three thousand Americans! This poor isolated Nigerian burned a Dutchman's hand. What's a king -- I mean God -- to do?
Even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and so it was when Karl Marx said history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce. So it is now with our erstwhile emperor. You've got to have some sympathy for Obama in his dealings with the fickle mob. Don't the American people realize that Abdulmutallab will never be waterboarded? Do they not know that he will never be interrogated by authorities at all? And that Obama is merely being, however foolishly, consistent?