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Archive for May 26th, 2010|Daily archive page

CONSPIRACIES VS. STUPIDITIES

In Bureaucracy, Politics on May 26, 2010 at 11:04 am

In his May 24 column, “Rand Paul’s Amazing Meltdown,” conservative columnist Michael Medved poses the question: “Could it be that the media establishment wanted [Rand] Paul to win and treated him respectfully in order to preserve his chances of victory?”

Specifically, he states: “Rand Paul’s amazing meltdown in his first week as the GOP Senate nominee in Kentucky raises serious questions about media conspiracies–not because the network talking heads decided to ask him tough questions, but because they waited to pose those challenges until after he’d won his primary and the Republicans were stuck with him.”

It’s easy to make a conspiratorial argument for anything. And such thinking has huge appeal for both the Left and Right. For almost 50 years, liberals like Mark Lane and Oliver Stone have lived well off the contention that JFK died at the hands of a conspiracy.

On the Right are those who believe that members of the Nixon Administration deliberately sabotaged the President by sending burglars into the Watergate Hotel to be arrested in the act.

Indulging in such conspiracy theories is easier than accepting the brutal truth that Kennedy died at the hands of a malcontented loner, and that Nixon was brought down by his own criminality rather than traitors within the Republican party.

Both sides conveniently forget this truism to be found in Niccolo Machiavelli’s classic work on the gaining and holding of power, The Prince:

Experience shows that there have been very many conspiracies, but few have turned out well. For whoever conspires cannot act alone, and cannot find companions except among those who are discontented. And as soon as you have disclosed your intention to a malcontent, you give him the means of satisfying himself.

Medved, too, has apparently forgotten this. Medved cites the media’s respectful treating of Paul as evidence of a conspiracy to sabotage not just him but the Republican party’s chances of victory in the Kentucky Senate race.

But what if the media had not treated Paul respectfully? It’s a sure bet that Medved and his fellow conservatives would have then accused the media of publicly trying to derail his candidacy.

Since the media treated Paul with the same respect they showed the other candidates in the race, Republicans like Medved must shop for a new theory for Paul’s “meltdown.”

That is, they must find a way to explain his remarks that while he opposes racial discrimination, he also opposes laws–such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964–that ban it. They must also put a spin in his more recent comment attacking President Obama as “really un-American in his criticism of business” by demanding that BP be held accountable for the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It’s certainly easier to attack the media as conspirators than to accept that one’s party has cast its lot with a man who says things that outrage a great many voters.

Consider, for example, his positions–as listed on his own website–on:

ABORTION: “I believe we may be able to save millions of lives in the near future by allowing states to pass their own anti-abortion laws….I would strongly support legislation restricting federal courts from hearing cases like Roe v. Wade. Such legislation would only require a majority vote, making it more likely to pass than a pro-life constitutional amendment.” In short, Big Government should not intrude into the lives of its citizens–unless a woman wants to control her own body.

ENERGY: “Our energy crisis stems from too much government intervention. The solution requires allowing businesses and ideas to compete.” If you like the way BP has handled the ever-spreading oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, you’ll love Paul’s attitude that “What’s good for BP is good for the country.”

HEALTH CARE: “Like other areas of the economy where the federal government wields its heavy hand, health care is over-regulated and in need of serious market reforms. As Senator, I would ensure that real free market principles are applied to fix this problem.” In short, if 31 million Americans don’t have health care, that’s their tough luck. It’s not the role of the Federal Government to protect its citizens from life-threatening illness just because they can’t afford extortionate medical fees.

For more than 50 years, Republicans have portrayed themselves as the only party worthy of trust. They have repeatedly accused their Democratic opponents of not simply being wrong, but of being traitors–of lusting for the chance to “sell out” America to whichever group seemed most frightening at the moment: Communists, criminals, terrorists or “tax-and-spend” liberals.

Those who believe themselves charged with a sacred mission are prone to see evil conspiracies at work when they slam into a roadblock–especially if that roadblock is of their own making.

TAKING AND GIVING ADVICE

In Bureaucracy, Politics, Self-Help on May 26, 2010 at 12:20 am

Some people–like President Richard Nixon–like to make their decisions in private, consulting almost no one and then springing the surprise announcement on an often-shocked public.

Others, like President Bill Clinton, care more about what their enemies than their supporters think of them. As a result, they usually wind up alienating their supporters and winning at best only token support from their enemies.

But there is another way to reach decisions–that suggested by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science. In his classic work, The Prince, he offers an approach that combines the private with the public.

Having served as Florentine ambassador to courts throughout Italy, Machiavelli well understood the temptations of power. He thus fashioned an approach that accepted as a given the power of flattery–and the need to guard oneself against it.

This danger is best illustrated in the famous joke about a corporate president asking his private pilot, “What altitude are we flying at?” and the suck-up pilot replies, “What altitude do you want it to be?”

And having met rulers both wise and foolish, Machiavelli realized how essential it was for those in power to keep a steady grip on the truth about people and events. So he offered the following advice:

There is no way of guarding oneself against flattery than by letting men understand that they will not offend you by speaking the truth. But when every one can tell you the truth, you lose their respect. A prudent prince must therefore take a third course, by choosing for his counsel wise men, and giving them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else.

But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels and with each of these men comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable. Beyond these he should listen to no one, go about the matter deliberately, and be determined in his decisions.

Whoever acts otherwise either acts precipitately through flattery or else changes often through the variety of opinions, from which it follows that he will be little esteemed.

A prince, therefore, ought always to take counsel, but only when he wishes, not when others wish. On the contrary, he ought to discourage absolutely attempts to advise him unless he asks it. But he ought to be a great asker, and a patient hearer of the truth about those things of which he has inquired. Indeed, if he finds that anyone has scruples in telling him the truth he should be angry.

But what about the giving of advice? Machiavelli has some brilliant counsel on that, too. In his great work, The Discourses–which deals with how to preserve liberty within a republic–he warns:

Certainly those who counsel princes and republics are placed between two dangers. If they do not advise what seems to them for the good of the republic or the prince, regardless of the consequences to themselves, then they fail of their duty. And if they do advise it, then it is at the risk of their position and their lives, for all men are blind in this, that they judge of good or evil counsels only by the results.

In reflecting as to the means to avoid this dilemma of either disgrace or danger, I see no other course than to take things moderately, and not to undertake to advocate any enterprise with too much zeal, but to give one’s advice calmly and modestly. If either then the republic or the prince decides to follow it, they may do so, as it were, of their own will, and not as though they were drawn into it by your importunity.

In adopting this course it is not reasonable to suppose that either the prince or republic will manifest any ill will towards you on account of a resolution not taken contrary to the wishes of the many. For the danger arises when your advice has caused the many to be contravened. In that case, when the result is unfortunate, they all concur in your destruction.

And although by following the course I advise you may fail to attain that glory which is acquired by having been one against many in counseling an enterprise which success has justified, yet this is compensated for by two advantages.

The first is, you avoid all danger. And the second consists in the great credit which you will have if, after having modestly advised a certain course, your counsel is rejected, and the adoption of a different course results unfortunately.

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