In Bureaucracy, History, Politics on May 29, 2010 at 2:49 pm

From: Niccolo Machiavelli
To: Barack Obama, President of the United States

I regret to inform you, Mr. President, of two unpleasant pieces of news.

First: On April 20, BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and sank about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast. The resulting oil spill has pumped millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, with no end in sight.

Second: A May 24-25 USA TODAY/Gallup Poll gives you a poor rating by 53% of your fellow countrymen in your handling of the oil spill off the Gulf.

Fortunately, you can turn this situation around–but only if you’re willing to make some hard decisions and make your enemies even more angry.

First, you should realize that you are partly responsible for the sharp drop in your popularity.

During the 2008 Presidential race, you vigorously opposed offshore oil drilling. This got you the votes of all those liberals who now call themselves “progressives.” But after you became President and the public demanded lower oil prices, you decided that offshore oil drilling was all right after all.

Remember the counsel I offered you in The Prince on how to avoid becoming despised or hated?

…The prince must…avoid those things which will make him hated or despised….He is rendered despicable by being thought changeable, frivolous, effeminate, timid and irresolute—which a prince must guard against as a rock of danger….

I sought to warn Bill Clinton against this mistake, but he never listened to me–and kept making it throughout his Presidency.

I also warned him to stop making constant concessions to his worst Republican enemies. Right to the end of his Presidency he thought he could charm his enemies into liking and supporting him. So he never learned:

…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 the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined. For the friendship which is gained by purchase and not through grandeur and nobility of spirit is bought but not secured, and at a pinch is not to be expended in your service.

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.

I greatly fear, Mr. President, that you will share the same disappointed–and disappointing–fate as President Clinton.

I also fear, Mr. President, that you have not fully accepted the realities of your position–and the world we all live in:

Many have imagined republics and principalities which have never been seen or known to exist in reality. For how we live is so far removed from how we ought to live, that he who abandons what is done for what ought to be done, will rather learn to bring about his own ruin rather than his preservation. 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.

Finally, Mr. President, you must be prepared to act boldly or cautiously, as the situation demands–and must be able to recognize which quality is called for at any given time:

There are two methods of fighting—the one by law, the other by force. The first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second. It is therefore necessary for a prince to know well how to use both the beast and the man.

A prince…must imitate the fox and the lion, for the lion cannot protect himself from traps, and the fox cannot defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to avoid traps, and a lion to frighten wolves. Those who wish to be only lions do not realize this.

You are now almost 18 months into your Presidency. You have made some mistakes and suffered some setbacks–as all Presidents must. But there is still time to learn from them–and create victories that will live on in the hearts of your countrymen long after your term of office has ended.

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