All the warning signs were there in The Prince for anyone to read.
Especially President Barack Obama.
And either he skipped those chapters or he ignored their timeless advice for political leaders.
The chapter he should have started with was 6: “Of New Dominions Which Have Been Acquired By One’s Own Arms and Ability.”
Early in his first term as President, Obama decided to reform the American healthcare system. Before taking any such action, he should have carefully considered the following:
…There is nothing more difficult to carry out, nor more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to handle, than to initiate a new order of things.
For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the laws in their favor, and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.
Another chapter he should have consulted was 19: ”That We Must Avoid Being Despised and Hated.”
For openers, Niccolo Machiavelli writes:
…The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised. And whenever he succeeds in this, he will have done his part, and will find no danger in other vices….
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.
The prince who creates such an opinion of himself gets a great reputation, and it is very difficult to conspire against one who has a great reputation. [He] will not be easily attacked, so long as it is known that he is capable and reverenced by his subjects.
Obama started off well. Americans had high expectations of him.
This was partly due to his being the first black elected President. And it was partly due to the legacies of needless war and financial catastrophe left by his predecessor, George W. Bush.
Obama entered office intending to reform the American healthcare system, to make medical care available to all citizens, and not just the richest.
But that was not what the vast majority of Americans wanted him to concentrate his energies on. With the loss of 2.6 million jobs in 2008, Americans wanted Obama to find new ways to create jobs.
This was especially true for the 11.1 million unemployed, or those employed only part-time.
Jonathan Alter, who writes sympathetically about the President in The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies, candidly states this.
But Obama chose to spend most of his first two years as President pushing the Affordable Care Act (ACA)–which soon became known as Obamacare–through Congress.
The results were:
- Those desperately seeking employment felt the President didn’t care about them.
- The reform effort became a lightning rod for conservate groups like the Tea Party.
- In 2010, a massive right-wing turnout cost the Democrats the House of Representatives, and threatened Democratic control of the Senate.
Yet even worse was to come for the President.
Throughout his campaign to win support for the ACA, Obama had repeatedly promised that, under it: “If you like your health insurance plan, you can keep your plan. Period. If you like your doctor, you can keep your doctor. Period.”
But, hidden in the 906 pages of the law, was a fatal catch for the President’s own credibility.
The law stated that those who already had medical insurance could keep their plans–so long as those plans met the requirements of the new healthcare law.
If their plans didn’t meet those requirements, they would have to obtain coverage that did.
It soon turned out that a great many Americans wanted to keep their current plan–even if it did not provide the fullest possible coverage.
Suddenly, the President found himself facing a PR nightmare: Charged and ridiculed as a liar.
Even Jon Stewart, who on “The Daily Show” had supported the implementation of “Obamacare,” ran footage of Obama’s “you can keep your doctor” promise.
The implication: You said we could keep our plan/doctor; since we can’t, you must be a liar.
As a result, the President now finds his reputation for integrity–long his greatest asset–shattered.
According to a CBS poll released on November 20, only 37% of Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, down from 46% in late October. CBS called that rating “the lowest of his presidency.”
All of which takes us to the final warning offered by Machiavelli:
Whence it may be seen that hatred is gained as much by good works as by evil….