President Barack Obama came into office determined to find common ground with Republicans.
But they quickly made it clear to him that they only wanted his political destruction. At that point, he should have put aside his hopes for a “Kumbaya moment” and re-read what Niccolo Machiavelli said in The Prince on the matter of love versus fear:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved or feared, or feared more than love. The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved.
For it may be said of men in general that they are ungrateful, voluble, dissemblers, anxious to avoid danger and covetous of gain.
As long as you benefit them, they are entirely yours: they offer you their blood, their goods, their life and their children, when the necessity is remote. But when it approaches, they revolt….
And men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared; for love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Moreover, Machiavelli warns that even a well-intentioned leader can unintentionally bring on catastrophe.
This usually happens when, hoping to avoid conflict, he allows a threat to go unchecked. Thus:
A man who wishes to make a profession of goodness in everything must inevitably come to grief among so many who are not good. And therefore it is necessary, for a prince who wishes to maintain himself, to learn how not to be good, and to use this knowledge and not use it, according to the necessity of the case.
For Obama, such a moment came in 2011, when House Republicans threatened to to destroy the credit rating of the United States unless the President agreed to scrap Obamacare.
Obama, a former attorney, heatedly denounced House Republicans for “extortion” and “blackmail.”
Unless he was exaggerating, both of these are felony offenses that are punishable under the 2001 USA Patriot Act and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act of 1970.
RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.
Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”
The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”
And if President Obama believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with extortionate behavior, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act, passed in the wake of 9/11.
In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:
“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama could have directed the Justice Department to apply them.
If violations had been discovered, indictments could have quickly followed–and then prosecutions. The results of such action could be easily predicted:
- Facing lengthy prison terms, those indicted Republicans would have first had to lawyer-up.
- This would have imposed huge monetary costs on them, since good criminal attorneys don’t come cheap.
- Obsessed with their personal survival, they would have had little time to engage in more of the same thuggish behavior that got them indicted. In fact, doing so would have only made their convictions more likely.
- Those Republicans who hadn’t (yet) been indicted would have feared; “I could be next.” This would have produced a chilling effect on their willingness to engage in further acts of subversion and extortion.
- The effect on Right-wing Republicans would have been the same as that of President Ronald Reagan’s firing of striking air traffic controllers: “You cross me and threaten the security of this nation at your own peril.”
It would no doubt have been a long time before Republicans dared to engage in such behavior–at least, while Obama held office.
So: Why didn’t President Obama act to punish such criminal conduct?
Obama Mistake No. 4: He allowed himself to be cowed by his enemies.
In The Prince, Machiavelli laid out the qualities that a successful ruler must possess. There were some to be cultivated, and others to be avoided at all costs. For example:
He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute–which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….
[He] must contrive that his actions show grandeur, spirit, gravity and fortitude. As to the government of his subjects, let his sentence be irrevocable, and let him adhere to his decisions so that no one may think of deceiving or cozening him.
So how has Obama fared by this standard?