Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Obama, Machiavelli, and Fortuna
Maybe turning the country around won't be quite so hard for President Obama as many people think.
This Prince has assumed power with Virtu, political skill, and which was considered indispensable to successful governance by the Italian thinker Niccolo Machiavelli.
In his seminal work, "The Prince," Machiavelli wrote; "And because this act of transition from private citizen to prince supposes either ingenuity or Fortune, it appears that either the one or the other of these two things should, in part, mitigate many of the problems; nevertheless, he who has relied upon Fortune less has maintained his position best."
The very decision to run, the ability to communicate, the spit-shine and triumph of his campaign, and the celerity with which he has put together a governing team are each testament to the new president's skill and ingenuity.
But what of his Fortuna, that necessary second element? What of the burdens placed upon his shoulders by the outgoing gang of inept and corrupt leaders? Do they signify that Obama is bereft of this special gift in taking office at such a dire time?
As part of his stimulus package, Obama is promoting a "Make Work Pay" tax credit that would also accrue to workers so poor they are not subject to the government's tithe.
Republicans, who don't like taxes, like the poor even less and don't care much for the provision addressing the concerns of those same poor. Rep. Eric Cantor (D-Virg.), House Republican Whip, told the new President as much when invited to an two-party conference at the White House.
"You're correct, there's a philosophical difference, but I won, so we're going to prevail on that," Obama informed Cantor in a way that made those gathered chuckle.
House Republicans, of course, are in the minority, so Obama was absolutely right in his prognosis.
On the Senate side, things can be a little different. There the Republican caucus is led by Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky whom, in the last Congress, launched the most filibusters in America's history.
But even McConnell can read the handwriting on the wall. He recently responded to conservative critics of any compromise with the popular new White House occupant in the following manner: "Anyone who belittles cooperation resigns him or herself to a state of permanent legislative gridlock and that is simply no longer acceptable to the American people."
Which brings us to the overarching point of this meandering post: Obama did not come to power in a vacuum and his ascendance has nothing to do with any popular passion for "centrism" as the commentariat would have us believe.
Instead, it has to do with the ground having shifted dramatically.
So let's talk climate change?
Nobody needs highwayscribery to explain how the "up" is now "down" when the "New York Times," runs a front-page piece on the virtue of nationalizing the country's banks, which is more than a little shocking.
Bill Kristol, not coincidentally, has penned his last column entitled "Will Obama Saved Liberalism?" which is something of a switch given that, for many years now, he and men of similar ilk had gloated over Liberalism's death.
In recent days, Obama has ordered the closing of Guantanamo Bay, subjected all U.S. forces to the existing Army manual on interrogation, frozen the prior administration's last-minute efforts to befoul the environment, and made it okay for states such as California to require cleaner-burning cars from Detroit.
"And one should bear in mind," wrote Machiavelli, "that there is nothing more difficult to execute, nor more dubious of success, nor more dangerous to administer than to introduce a new system of things: for he who introduces it has all those who profit from the old system as his enemies, and he has only lukewarm allies in all those who might profit from the new system."
But those who profited from the old system are either gone or mightily weakened.
The vaunted Titans of Wall Street are being pulled from their podiums of public popularity or, worse, indicted (with more coming).
The auto industry wanted help and got that help in exchange for vigilance from Democratic lawmakers. So they'd better build clean cars and shut-up if they want to stay in business.
Bankers? They still need money and they need it from that source of all things evil over the past 30 years...Big Government.
The horizon, in other words, is free of institutional obstacles. The president looks out over a vast and empty plain pleading for new farms, factories, and foundries.
In the nation's misfortune has Obama found his Fortuna lest we forget the great lament of the Clinton administration was that the reigning prosperity required so little of the president.
There is no shortage of political chat show commentators observing the perils associated with Obama trying to do everything at once, especially when some of what the new government needs to do, and as the president himself has pointed out, will be painful.
Here too, Machiavelli must needs give Obama the benefit of his doubt.
"Injuries," he wrote, "therefore, should be inflicted all at the same time, for the less they are tasted, the less they offend; and benefits should be distributed a bit at a time in order that they may be savored fully."
And for the old boys in particular... it's dinner time.