President Obama's term so far has been compared to many fictional and non-fictional characters: Chauncey Gardener of "Being There" is frequently invoked, along with the self-invented charmer Don Draper from "Mad Men," and of course there are the usual tiresome comparisons with Hitler that most presidents face these days.
But I have a different character in mind. The more I watch this administration at work, the more I think we're seeing the first Nigel Tufnel presidency.
Nigel Tufnel, many will remember, was the fictitious heavy metal guitarist in the fictional "rockumentary" "This Is Spinal Tap." In a classic scene, he displays his guitar collection and his special amplifier that -- unlike all other amplifiers in existence -- has knobs that go all the way up to 11, instead of just 10.
And that's what Obama has done: In his first two years as president, he's taken us to 11 in so many ways.
Under Bush and the Republican Congress from 2000-2006 federal spending was bad, and many people groused. But Obama has turned it up to 11, running up trillion-dollar-plus deficits that dwarf the worst we saw under Bush and the congressional Republicans, and producing open revolt from Tea Partiers and others.
Under Bush, and previous presidents, government regulation was creeping up steadily, year by year. But under Obama, the regulatory knobs have been turned to 11: New health care laws, a new financial regulation bill, proposals for carbon taxes and new Environmental Protection Agency regulation of carbon dioxide -- the list seems endless, made even worse by the near-body-cavity-searching now being done by the Transportation Security Administration. (Tufnel's grand opus, a bondage-themed album titled "Smell the Glove," sounds all too close to air-travel reality now. . . .)
Under Bush, the left complained about the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan, which candidate Obama characterized as "just air-raiding villages and killing civilians." But under Obama, air raids and drone attacks have drastically increased, not only in Afghanistan, but in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Obama has turned the air-raid knob up to 11.
Under Bush and previous presidents, political friends were rewarded with government money. But under Obama, the cronyism has been turned up to 11, with General Motors and Chrysler bondholders stiffed to reward union members, with massive federal grants (later rescinded) to a voter-fraud ridden ACORN, and with numerous other special carve-outs for Obama-supporting special interests.
Under Bush and previous presidents, the Justice Department was sometimes politicized, but under Obama, the politicization has been turned up to 11, with blatant favoritism in the refusal to pursue voter-intimidation charges against the New Black Panther Party, and with repeated complaints from insiders about the corruption of the Civil Rights Division.
For Nigel Tufnel, turning the knobs to 11 was a way to excite the crowd, and Obama's approach has certainly done that, if not quite in the way that Obama intended. While many Americans were uneasy about big government before, Obama's shock-and-awe approach got them downright upset.
Al Gore used to tell the story of a frog in a pot of slowly heating water, left insensible to the fact that it was being boiled by slow degrees. Obama turned the knob on the stove to 11, and now the frog has decided to jump.
Obama's advisers thought that the sudden introduction of numerous big-government programs would produce a sort of shock-and-awe effect, paralyzing opposition and getting the public used to the idea of European style government involvement in American life. But instead of shock and awe, Obama's approach has produced shock and action, with the Tea Party movement and other anti-big-government protests sweeping the nation like wildfire, and producing the biggest Democratic midterm defeat in generations.
And, like the beleaguered band Spinal Tap, Obama is seeing his appeal shrink rapidly despite the increased volume -- though his advisers, like Spinal Tap's manager Ian Faith, protest that his appeal isn't shrinking, just becoming "more selective." In fact, as it flounders before the Wikileaks scandal and the TSA brouhaha, the entire Obama presidency seems to be shrinking, much like the 18-foot model of Stonehenge that, through a slip of Tufnel's pen, became an 18-inch model of Stonehenge that left audiences unimpressed.
But here's where the analogy fails. In the movie, Tufnel's career was ultimately, saved by a surge of popularity in Japan. Obama, on the other hand, has pursued policies that seem to make America likely to suffer Japan's fate, a decade or more of economic stagnation coupled with massive growth in government debt.
For Spinal Tap, luck produced a happy ending to a humorous story of ineptitude and decline. Can Obama expect similar luck? Sadly, such happy endings are far easier for Hollywood than for Washington.
Examiner Sunday Reflections Contributor Glenn Harlan Reynolds is a University of Tennessee law professor and author of the Instapundit blog.