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.


Nick France said...

Why would you compare Obama to Machiavelli? What has Obama done, to even be mentioned in the same sentence? The so-called burdens placed on his shoulders are a product of a corrupt, greedy America, an America indicative of liberal policy -- not the previous administration you call inept and corrupt. Burdens he fought to inherit, by the way. To label them as such is false and illusory. You may not have liked their policies, but they’ve done nothing corrupt -- and inept is way too strong a word. We may even agree on mistakes on both sides of the aisle, but to call this dilemma America is now in, the Bush administration’s fault, with no blame on the Dems, is patiently false.

The “spit-shine and triumph of his campaign” was made possible by a mainstream media fawning all over him, but I wonder if you would ever admit to that. In fact, I wonder if you’re able realize this as truth.

You wrote: “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.”

That’s wealth distribution and hardly “making work pay” -- it’s welfare in the guise of a tax cut.

You say that Republicans don’t like taxes and like the poor even less. I’m a Republican, and I take offence to that remark. The opposite is more truthful. I dare say that Republicans, in fact, church going, religious, conservative Republicans, care more so for the poor than left-leaning liberal Democrats. In Arthur C. Brooks’ book “Who Really Cares” he makes the case for conservative’s overwhelming disproportionate amount of charitable giving in America. It seems to me that liberals rather have the government take on the responsibility for caring for the poor, while conservatives take an individual responsibility for loving thy neighbor. Even Obama agreed as he and others chuckled to his response regarding philosophical differences to Cantor (with that Obama arrogance).

Democrats need the poor to stay in power, so they keep them poor to retain their power. Everyone, who’s politically astute, knows this. Republicans make attempts to empower the poor -- not stifle their abilities and opportunities.

McConnell will get his ass handed to him by conservatives if he caves into your notion that there’s handwriting on the wall -- that the Republican minority can’t cause legislative gridlock. That’s their job, as I see it. And the American people are not entirely in Obama’s camp. Obama didn’t get 100% of the vote, nor did he get 80% or even 60% of the vote. Let’s not forget that. Oh I know it’s hard to remember that with Hollywood and the media telling us that we love him, over and over, ad nauseam -- like we’re some kind of third-world, uneducated population. Some Americans are, that’s for sure, but not all.

This notion of change has not happened yet, and I know he’ll do his best to implement it, with his recent executive orders and his so-called stimulus plan. But his form of change is nothing new and quoting Machiavelli doesn’t help it to be new. It’s old, and it’s a failed ideology. America is “the people over government,” not “government over the people” – and American will wake up and reject it.

That “old system” you write about is called free market enterprise – capitalism. And it’s what made America the nation that it is – a free bastion of liberty, the most sought-after nation to live in, and the richest, most powerful nation on earth. It was no accident either.

Obama will not inflict his injuries all at the same time, as Machiavelli advocates – and to imply that would be akin to dreaming. No -- America will not stand for that and they will wake up eventually and give back the Old boys the reins. Hopefully sooner than later, starting in 2010 with the Senate races, before too much damage is done.

Let me conclude with this: my old friend, highwayscribery… how did you and I fall on such ends of the political and social spectrum? I hope you understand that I know you have our nations best interest at heart, I just happen to disagree profoundly. It is my hope that you understand I too have our nations best interest at heart. And if we just listen to each other, we may just learn something.

the highway scribe said...


I didn't compare them. I was using Machiavelli's text as a tool for analyzing Obama' situation and talents.

Maybe I didn't do a very good job of it.

Now, to (some of) your arguments.

I think the Republicans have been very corrupt. There's no other way to bankrupt a wealthy country than to loot it.

I covered a lot of it as a reporter on the environment.

Typically, the administration ignored laws they were sworn to uphold and waited for private citizens to sue them. It took five or six years, but those groups always won. Even Republican-appointed judges found their hands tied.

"No basis in rational analysis," "Utter contempt for the law as written," and other such phrases always littered the judicial decision against the Bush crowd.

I do think an administration that warned of dire dangers from weapons of mass destruction, but couldn't find them, or dithered while a major American city sunk into delta silt, is inept. I just don't think it's too strong a word.

Both Bush's for my money were great at bombing -- tearing down -- but clueless when it came to building. They have Iraq as legacy.

The American people gave Bush a reelection and the blessing of both legislative houses in support. What we're living through now is what they sowed.

I don't remember the media fawning over Obama when a pastor in Chicago went verbally AWOL. I saw a system trying to kneecap him, only the strength of his support maintained his place as the majority of voters' choice.

His campaign was not a media creation, but something groundbreaking that political observers on both sides of the aisle agree will serve as a model for the future.

Wealth distribution is happening all the time. It just runs in different directions. The conservative era shifted it upwards.

That's why I'm a Democrat.

I live in a liberal hamlet without church-going Republicans so the ones I know are those in Sacramento and Washington.

In my estimation, they don't care about the poor and, as you point out later on, don't think government has a role in leveling the playing field.

Charity never has been and never will be sufficient to addressing the flaws in the "free" market system, which in my own struggle, has demonstrated a preference for the well-connected and powerful over middle-class schnooks like myself.

I don't see anything "free" or unencumbered about it. I've made a career of covering tax credits for developers, sugar subsidies (you're a Floridian and should know), and off-shore shelters, while keeping tabs on giant shovelfuls of public money spent on a company the former vice president worked for and continued to hold stock in while in office.

To me that's corrupt and if a Democrat does it, it is still corrupt.

Welfare is something you get when you don't work; Obama's Make Work Pay credit addresses the want of "charity" found in the hearts of employers who don't pay their people enough to live in a complex and expensive society.

Democrats do indeed need the poor as part of their governing coalition and thanks to Republican economic policy, they've found a deep pool of support.

I don't think any legislator's job is to cause gridlock. That you do, Nick France, is a good explanation for the GOP's rapid descent into irrelevance.

I have sat where you are now for many, many years and understand your anger and frustration. It takes time my friend.

I am aware that many Republicans have the nation's best interests at heart and say with all sympathy the worst part of your party prevailed and sold the best part down the river.

My dad voted for every Republican since Eisenhower but voted for the next wave in American politics this time around.

I know real political power because I've been at the other end of it for so long and am pretty sure, my own partisan desires aside, Obama has the votes to do what he wants.

As for my politics, they were formed during a few summers in Europe and a college education garnered in the south where I sensed, with tremendous forboding, the changes Ronald Reagan represented.

We're at the other end of the spectrum now and you and I will be of an age far greater than we'll be in 2010 before the pendulum swings.

I'm glad you came by and took the time to read my blog. Facebook is an interesting device and I find it fascinating to meet with old names so far down the road.


Nick France said...

I thought we'd just disagree, Stephen -- and I was right. (no pun intended) I also thought of rebutting, and I can, believe me. I am just as partisan as you, apparently. But I can see it would be of no use. Both you and I have our minds made up. I've debated libs as far to the left as you before, and found it to be futile.

I will tell you this; time will tell as to how this will all play out. I have my fears about an Obama administration, but I am praying he is successful and he does right for America, for America's sake.

I'll see you on the internet,

the highway scribe said...


Absolutely. I appreciate your restraint. We've both done this before. I think the single back-and-forth is usually good enough. I'm on the winning side right now and less inclined to rant than when Bush was in office. I think it's right and proper that you wish the new administration well. A truly successful policy would make us both happy, not just me. As I understood the President's message, such is his goal.

It was good to debate with you in a meaningful way. I hope you'll come by again and get a unique take on what's going on politically.

Take care.