The politics of President Skroob from ‘Spaceballs’
On Wednesday evening, The Guardian published details of the Obama administration’s unprecedented telephone surveillance program, in which the call records for millions of Verizon customers were provided to the National Security Agency. In what is sure to become the latest volley in an ongoing debate around executive power and overreach, some analysts point to President Obama’s continued reliance on PATRIOT Act policies as simply a “new normal” when it comes to long-term presidential authority and national security.
Now, as the pendulum of American politics swings away from an equilateral triad of governmental branches, and toward an Isoscelean pyramid capped by an all-powerful executive, we look to other models of presidential power to learn what makes a strong leader and national figurehead. Enter: the one set forth for us 26 years ago by writer/director Mel Brooks in his classic “Spaceballs,” the wise(ish) and powerful(ish) President Skroob.
In Skroob, we see a president whose grand vision for Planet Spaceball’s citizenry is tempered only by his human flaws. Faced with an unavoidable oxygen shortage, Skroob sets forth a plan to liberate the breathable air from neighboring planet Druidia. An undeniably tragic figure, Skroob’s best laid plans to save his rapidly dying world go awry at the hands of meddling interlopers and bumbling associates. So, what sort of President is Skroob, and what can we learn from his successes and failures?
As our story begins, President Skroob is forced to contend with an environmental catastrophe on a global scale: The rapid loss of oxygen from his home world of Planet Spaceball. A few things to note here:
- It’s safe to assume the air shortage did not, in fact, begin with Skroob. Rather, as “President” he likely inherited it from a previous administration. Keep that in mind, as you consider Skroob’s plan to relocate Druidia’s air to Planet Spaceball. He is not so much fixing a problem of his own making — that is to say “covering his ass” — as he is staking his presidency and personal reputation on a coherent environmental policy to address an immediate concern. Skroob is a man of action, willing to accept the responsibilities of his office regardless of political consequences.
- In an effort to avoid national panic, Skroob makes the hard decision to deny the air shortage to the press. This is, on the surface, a controversial move. But, given he had a plan in place, his decision not to make the crisis public was the right one. Admitting to the oxygen crisis and his plans to liberate another planet’s air would have meant inviting scrutiny, oversight and public pandaemonium. Skroob’s decision erred on the side of caution and expediency. Strong leaders may need to sacrifice immediate public gratification for the greater, and often unpublicized, good.
For all his environmental concern, let’s not mistake Skroob for a tree-hugging conservationist. Take, for example, a look at his flagship, “Spaceball-One,” as it transforms into the oxygen-sucking MegaMaid.
Not so much a “spaceship” as it is a city in space, the sheer size and complexity of Spaceball-One is enough to boggle the mind. Extrapolate the workforce, infrastructure and raw materials necessary to create something of this magnitude. In the midst of a global oxygen shortage, Skroob was able to mobilize an industrial complex (who, keep in mind, presumably weren’t aware of an air crisis in the first place) to create a spaceship-turned-atmosphere-extraction-and-containment-unit on a planetary scale. This is a president who understands the machinations of industry, and is able to Get Things Done — regardless of atmosphere (both political and actual).
Sure, it may seem as if Skroob is involved in some decidedly un-presidential menage-a-fuck with two busty blondes, but take a closer look:
That’s right. He’s actually catching up on some light reading, a biography of none other than Richard Milhous Nixon. Determined to avoid the mistakes of another high-profile executive, Skroob’s off-duty time is spent studying history. A good President eschews personal pleasure for professional development in the hopes of better serving his fellow citizens.
As leader of Planet Spaceball, and in possession of a massive spaceship-cum-MegaMaid, you might expect Skroob to embrace day-to-day conveniences an advanced society would offer. Not so. Skroob is, at his core, an old-fashioned guy, wary of the price tag technology brings. Sure, he’s not above giving beaming a try. But burn him once, and he’s back to what he knows best — being a “do it himself” kind of guy.
The horror at discovering his bulbous buttocks does not so much come from a place of vanity, but rather a place of shame. For someone who prefers walking from point A to point B, seeing himself out of shape is not so much a mark of personal failure. Ultimately, Skroob holds himself to an exceptionally high standard, and is frustrated when he’s unable to meet his own expectations.
A good captain goes down with his ship, and in “Spaceballs,” so does a good President. Following the destruction of MegaMaid (an act of genocide, in that it condemns Planet Spaceball to death by asphyxiation), we’re shown a last fleeting image of Skroob — climbing out of the wreckage of his beloved flagship, having remained onboard while his crew jettisoned off to safety.
Skroob lives to re-create the glory that was Planet Spaceball on this new world. In doing so, he can hold his head up high, knowing that, in spite of his failure to provide oxygen to his dying planet, he lead his people fearlessly, and with integrity. While a perfect president may never exist, it’s comforting to know that we have at least seem a glimpse of what could be: a leader with honor, courage and vision.