August 15, 2022

A Tale of Two Centuries

Power does not come from the “Two Ferns Effect” of self-deprecating irony, but from the Russian guns in Crimea

It’s unfair to expect Obama to do anything about Ukraine when his biggest priority is convincing twenty-somethings to buy worthless health insurance policies by appearing on online comedy shows and deploying his March Madness bracket.

The Obama Twitter feeds are filled with desperate pleas to buy ObamaCare; harnessing every memeworthy bit of internet detritus from cat pictures to twerking in the hopes of convincing healthy young people who don’t want health insurance to buy it anyway.

On March 17th, Obama’s Twitter linked to a statement on Ukraine and then it was back to “There’s only 14 days to get coverage.” It’s currently down to 12 days. It’s like holiday shopping, but with a $6,000 deductible.


Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn) went to Ukraine, called Russia’s invasion a “weak” and “panicky” reaction to Obama’s strength, and then announced plans to speak about the “Between Two Ferns Effect”. The “effect” is the sheer awesomeness of Obama’s appearance on an internet comedy show to promote ObamaCare.

It’s that kind of 21st century thinking that sets Barack apart from Vladimir’s quaint 19th century hunger for territory. While a former KGB agent wastes time conquering countries, a former community organizer focuses on selling nationalized health care to young invincibles through a website that works about as well as a Soviet Yugo.

Putin’s power rests on a shaky energy industry, but Obama’s power rests on ObamaCare. Kerry scoffed at Russia’s invasion as so 19th century. In the 21st century, power doesn’t come from land or armies, but from online popularity. Online popularity took a radical Illinois State Senator and turned him into a world leader. Online popularity is the WMD that the State Senator is convinced will save ObamaCare.

Putin has a weakness for staged photo ops circulated over the internet, but they are more like Kaiser Wilhelm II chopping pre-cut logs while yearning for the return of the German monarchy than Obama’s self-deprecating attempts to be all things to all people. The Russian government has no use for irony; it leaves such things to the opposition. In the post-modern America, leaders claim absolute power while making self-deprecating jokes. They discard the rule of law and then hawk nationalized healthcare in infomercials for an effect more surreal than a crony capitalist KGB man with a law degree taking off his tailored suit and $500,000 Tourbograph watch to play Great White Hunter.

Putin poses on horseback, in a wetsuit, in a hang glider, finding ancient urns in the sea or shooting tigers. Obama poses playing with a lightsaber, makes an unimpressed face with McKayla Maroney and unveils his March Madness picks. The Russian dictator strikes heroic poses straight out of the 19th century, while Obama struggles to hold the unstable attention span of 21st century millennials . Obama’s poses are no less absurd than Putin’s, but they are self-consciously absurd. Putin is playing the part of the great leader, while Obama disguises the enormous power he wields by acting more like Ellen; a talk show host endlessly cracking jokes and posing for goofy selfies.

It’s easy to laugh at Putin’s posturing, but Obama’s public image is no less cynical. Both men are instinctive totalitarians with backgrounds in Marxism and little respect for the rule of law. Obama is a creature of a more modern media age catering to a demographic which prides itself on skepticism, at least where Western religion or nationalism are concerned, while being as gullible as any of the old ladies clutching red portraits of Stalin in Simferopol when it comes to the progressive agenda.

The difference between the two centuries and the two men is a matter of misdirection. Putin enhances the public perception of his power while Obama downplays it. Putin’s base likes their red meat raw while Obama’s base prefers a soy burger that looks and tastes exactly like meat so that they can have an ersatz imitation of the real thing that preserves their moral superiority. Putin’s base values strength while Obama’s base waters down their abuses of power with the appearance of cleverness and humor.

Obama delivers Putin’s totalitarianism in soy form. It looks a lot like a burger, but it’s really just an Asian legume. It looks a lot like tyranny, but it falls apart when confronting an actual tyrant. It’s easy to raid guitar factories, lock up anti-Muslim filmmakers and send the IRS after political opponents, but that sort of pettiness is an ordinary day in Russia which just banned lacy underwear. The EPA, USDA and even the IRS are no match for Russian teenagers packing those dreaded assault rifles.

Obama’s Mean Girls strategy for Putin is to make him unpopular. The various White House responses talk of isolating Russia. But Obama needs Russia to isolate Iran. He needs China to isolate Russia which will become inconvenient when China starts a shooting war with Japan. Obama can’t isolate everyone. He can’t isolate anyone. He has just now gotten around to kicking Syria out of the US after Russia and China prevented him from isolating Assad.

The Hills and Big Brother are poor models for international diplomacy. While Obama is figuring out how to convince Russia to stop talking to Iran and China to stop talking to Russia and everyone to stop talking to North Korea, these countries are moving their own agendas forward by doing things, instead of by tweeting them.

The social network strategy for Russia will work about as well as it did for Syria or for ObamaCare. In the postmodern 21st century, Twitter mobs can destroy the lives of individuals who make racist jokes, but they’re no match for a conquering army. The Facebook nerds who steal elections, the Twitter social justice activists who spread privilege checking hashtags, the Tumblr diarists who churn out memes about microaggressions are as useless as their leader.

Progressive nerd bullies are as vicious online as they are impotent in real life. Obama’s plan to make Putin unpopular while he gobbles up countries isn’t a brilliant show of strength; it’s a passive aggressive display from the cyclist-in-chief who excels at putdowns, not at takedowns.

The left has been getting its own way for so long that it has forgotten that the Colbert Report isn’t real life, that snide remarks are no substitute for strength and that there are some men who are not afraid of being mocked by Saturday Night Live.

The 21st century post-modern power that the left puts so much into isn’t an evolution, but a devolution. It’s a collapsing civilization’s response to its own decline. The ironic poses of our post-modern dictators are a distancing effect for a culture that suspects sincerity but takes humorous denials at face value. The more indirect the path between motive, assertion and action, the more self-aware the modern totalitarian politician must be. And it is this show of self-awareness that is prized above all else including integrity, ethics and truth.

Romney was so despised because he was monotone, a black and white figure who said what he meant instead of layering it through infinite levels of irony. The age of the counterculture would have considered him a square. The grandchildren of that age saw him as equally unhip for his sincerity. The post-modern politician is serious by being unserious, he navigates deftly between jokes, personal narrative and the core message. He sells a brand, rather than a policy. An identity rather than an idea.

21st century branding is obsessed with the deft positioning of images and causes, but its practitioners are unable to apply the deft hijacking of memes to sell health insurance to the equally deft maneuverings of armored vehicles and armed men in Crimea. They have become social media shut ins, expert at navigating the narrow bubbles of online and offline elitist social networks, but blink in confusion when they are pulled away from the computer long enough to see lines of troops moving into another country.

The men and women in charge of our countries understand how to smear and to demean, how to build Twitter followers and tell self-deprecating jokes. They can’t build a website, but they consider actually making things beneath them. They are critics of the culture, social justice commentators, public intellectuals who can make anything into propaganda, but can’t hammer a nail into a board.

They treat every problem like an online debate. They assemble allies, pile on enemies, troll the opposition and then declare victory. But winning a debate doesn’t make the tanks go away.

“The world has seen through Russia’s actions and has rejected the flawed logic behind those actions,” Joe Biden declared. That might be a winning line in a Facebook debate, but it doesn’t do anything to move Russian forces out of Ukrainian cities.

Accusations of flawed logic, spell checks and saying, “You said literally when you meant figuratively” will not move a single piece of Russian armor out of Crimea.

Making Putin unpopular, a task already accomplished when he joined the organizers of the St. Patrick’s Day parade and the Boy Scouts in refusing to jump on the gay rights bandwagon, is an impotent display of postmodern soft power. Meanwhile the failure to stop Putin will make him more popular in the places that truly matter, where no one buys ObamaCare and no one is impressed by accusations of flawed logic.

Putin has demonstrated to Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria and China that America is weak, that it has become a nation living inside its own imagination, and he has shown Eastern Europe and the rest of the world that America is a bad friend while Russia is a dangerous enemy.

Obama’s 21st century world is an imaginary place whose virtual territories depend on real infrastructure and energy. Underneath the glittering cities in the sky where everyone is part of a virtual community are the real roads and cities of stone and steel that can be taken by anyone with enough men and determination to capture them.

The Facebook strategy can sell health insurance, but it can’t make ObamaCare financially viable. It can sneer at Putin, but it can’t do anything to change the real world equations. The left has confused the overlay, its commentaries and memes, for reality. It has come to believe that The Daily Show is real news, that Obama is a real leader and that a Twitter hashtag is real power.

The Russian soldiers in Crimea are a reminder that, as Mao said, “Every Communist must grasp the truth: Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.” The Western left has forgotten the simple truth that no Eastern leftist has ever become decadent enough to forget. Power does not come from the “Two Ferns Effect” of self-deprecating irony, but from the Russian guns in Crimea.