Few are the men and women in American public life who haven't heard Mr. Dooley's famous aphorism: "Politics ain't beanbag." John Boehner, currently serving out his community service as speaker of the House, appears to have been meditating on Mr. Dooley's cautionary wisdom. At the Ripon Society last week he said the Obama administration was trying "to annihilate the Republican Party."
Better late than never, Speaker Boehner now sees that Barack Obama's notion of political competition is Mad Max inside the Thunderdome: "Two men enter, one man leaves."
Last week during the president's second inaugural address, if one can employ that hallowed phrase to describe this speech, Mr. Obama used the occasion to defend entitlement programs by whacking his defeated presidential opponent: "They do not make us a nation of takers."
This was the second time Mr. Obama used a traditionally elevated forum to take down his opposition. His 2010 State of the Union speech will be remembered in history for nothing other than an attack on members of the Supreme Court seated before him. Justice Samuel Alito's whispered "Not true" would prove a prophetic comment on the Obama modus operandi.
Subsequent targets of the president's contempt have included the members of Congress's deficit-reduction supercommittee, the Ryan budget ("antithetical to our entire history"), repeated attacks on the "well off" and bankers, and famously a $100 million dump-truck of vilification on Mitt Romney.
When he won, the rationalization was that it was all a shrewd if brutal campaign strategy. But it kept coming. What is striking about the Obama technique is that it's not so much criticism as something closer to political obliteration, driving his opposition out of the political arena altogether.
After the inaugural speech, Obama communications director Dan Pfeiffer said that Democrats don't have "an opposition party worthy of the opportunity." Even among the president's supporters, one is hard put now to find anyone who doesn't recognize that Mr. Obama's original appeal to hope and change has given way to search and destroy.
Conventional wisdom holds that these unorthodox tactics are a mistake, that he's going to need GOP support on immigration and such. And by now it's conventional wisdom that when our smiling president transforms into Mr. Hyde he is merely channeling Saul Alinsky, deploying the tactics of community-organizing campaigns, the only operational world he knew before this.
The real pedigree, though, is a lot heavier than community organizing in Chicago.
Speaking last Saturday, Rep. Paul Ryan said that for Barack Obama to achieve his goals, "he needs to delegitimize the Republican Party." Annihilate, delegitimize—it's the same thing. The good news is that John Boehner and Paul Ryan recognize that their relationship with this White House is not as partners in anything. They are prey.
Back in 1965, when American politics watched the emergence of the New Left movement—rebranded today as "progressives"—a famous movement philosopher said the political left should be "liberated" from tolerating the opinions of the opposition:"Liberating tolerance would mean intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left."
That efficient strategy was the work of Herbert Marcuse, the political theorist whose ideas are generally credited with creating the basis for campus speech codes. Marcuse said, "Certain things cannot be said, certain ideas cannot be expressed, certain policies cannot be proposed." Marcuse created political correctness.
But let's talk about Marcuse in the here and now. He also proposed the withdrawal of toleration "from groups and movements . . . which oppose the extension of public services, social security, medical care, etc."
Barack Obama in his "gloves-off" news conference Jan. 14: "They have suspicions about Social Security. They have suspicions about whether government should make sure that kids in poverty are getting enough to eat or whether we should be spending money on medical research."
Marcuse called this "the systematic withdrawal of tolerance toward regressive and repressive opinions." That, clearly, is what President Obama—across his first term, the presidential campaign and now—has been doing to anyone who won't line up behind his progressivism. Delegitimize their ideas and opinions.
A Marcusian world of political intolerance became a reality on U.S. campuses. With relentless pushing from the president, why couldn't it happen in American political life? Welcome to the Thunderdome.
The original argument for the Obama presidency was that this was a new, open-minded and liberal man intent on elevating the common good. No one believes that now. This will be a second term of imposition. As he said in the inaugural: "Preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action." That is Marcusian.
If the opposition is looking for one word to shape its role now, it would be this: Dissent.
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A version of this article appeared January 31, 2013, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Obama's Thunderdome Strategy.