Sweep The Leg, McConnell

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JONATHAN CHAIT FEBRUARY 23, 2010

Sweep The Leg, McConnell

NBC's Mark Murray suggests that, while the Republican Party has enjoyed enormous success with its strategy of opposing everything President Obama does, the strategy may have limits:

But is that about to change? And is this the reason for the White House's televised health-care summit with Republicans on Thursday?

Enter the William Zabka Principle.

Zabka is the actor who played the villain in quite a few '80s movies -- "The Karate Kid," "Back to School," and "Just One of the Guys." 

And just what is the Zabka Principle? In those movies, Zabka played such an unlikable character that he forced audiences to root for the protagonist -- even if you didn't like him/her.

For example, how many young boys in the '80s didn't want to like Ralph Macchio's Daniel Larusso (especially since the girls in their classes thought Macchio was cute)? And there was plenty to admire about Zabka's Johnny: He was the better athlete; Zabka's dojo, Cobra Kai, was the superior dojo; and they certainly had the cooler uniforms.

But after Zabka and his crew jumped Macchio for the umpteenth time, and certainly after Zabka swept the leg, you had to side with Macchio -- no matter what.

I think this is pretty unrealistic. In the movie, you see the evil karate teacher order his villainous protege to sweep the leg, the protege react with obvious knowledge that it's an evil plan, and then do it anyway. In politics, you just get a lot of partisan arguments that sweeping the leg is a fairly technical violation in a sport where kicking people in the face is considered legitimate, and the real issue is that Daniel LaRussa illegally entered the tournament by faking a black belt. Billy Zabka will have his detractors, but you'll also have a lot of people making arguments like this (a revisionist account of "The Karate Kid," which you should be warned features a filthy illustration and lots of gratuitous profanity along with some real genius):

Since punishment akin to spankings had demonstrated little effect up to this point, it was time for Daniel to be shown his place via the heavy hand. It was the only way, otherwise, Daniel would eventually wrong somebody not possessing of mercy who would fuck him up worse than any BMX accident could ever cover up. Just as the stern lesson is starting to take, Tiny Asian appears in a cloud of Dragon’s Breath to fuck it all up…pathetic really, a skilled martial artist beating up a bunch of seventeen-year-olds.

With the balance of power now destabilized by the introduction of a child abuser, Daniel goes on the offensive and demands of the Cobras to be left alone, otherwise he’ll sic his murderous Nisei on them again. Sensei Kreese, with his superior understanding of Asian codes of honor, suggests that Daniel and Johnny square up on-on-one to settle things once and for all, like champions of yore. But once again, Daniel’s inherent weakness requires all manner of accommodation instead of him once again denying that the new kid’s lot in life is to just shut the fuck up and wait for the opportunity to prey on newer kids. So once again, Johnny must turn the other cheek and agree to leave Daniel alone until the All-Valley Tournament where he might be sufficiently trained to avoid crying in a crumpled heap after a two-second ass-beating.

The conventional view will be that Johnny Lawrence and his buddies should probably beat up Daniel less often, but he should also stop provoking them by stealing their girlfriends and soaking them with water. Maybe LaRussa's mother will propose fixing the situation with reforms like more security staff to cut down on in-school gang beatings, but most people will decide that the solution is for boys to start acting nice to each other like they used to in the old days.

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posted in: jonathan chait, nbc, back to school, just one of the guys, the karate kid, billy zabka, daniel larussa, daniel larusso, johnny lawrence, mark murray, ralph macchio, republican party, white house, the karate kid

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