bureaucracybusters

Archive for October 4th, 2012|Daily archive page

MACHIAVELLI WOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER

In History, Politics on October 4, 2012 at 12:00 am

It was September 26, 1960.  The date of the first–and now legendary–Presidential debate between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.

Robert F. Kennedy, who was managing his brother’s campaign, offered some blunt but effective debate-prep advice: “Kick him in the balls, Jack.”

John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy

As a result, Kennedy came out fighting–and stayed on the offensive throughout the debate.  At one point, he said flat-out that the United States should overthrow the year-old Cuban regime of Fidel Castro.

Nixon knew there was a secret CIA plan under way to do just that, but couldn’t afford to say so in public.  So he came out hard against such a proposal, saying it would alienate American allies throughout the Caribbean.

Nixon had been warned by Henry Cabot Lodge, his Vice Presidential running mate, to tone down his “assassin image.”

During the 1950s, as a colleague of Red-baiting Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, Nixon had made himself immune from the damning charge of “soft on Communism.”

And yet, pitted against a surprisingly aggressive Kennedy, he came off as decidedly second-best in standing up to the sons of Joseph Stalin.

The Kennedy-Nixon Debate

Commentators generally agreed that Nixon lost that first debate–the most-watched of the four.  And it may have proved fatal to his electoral chances that year.

“Kick him in the balls, Jack.”

It’s advice that someone should have given to President Barack Obama.  Not just before his October 3 debate with Mitt Romney, the Republican Presidential candidate, but at the start of his Presidency.

Romney came on strong from the outset and never let up.  He attacked the President relentlessly.  And he repeatedly ignored calls by the alleged moderator, Jim Lehrer, to stop because he had exceeded his time-limit.

The Obama-Romney Debate

But, surprisingly, Obama:

  • Never called out Romney on any of the lies he had aimed at the President throughout more than a year’s worth of campaigning.
  • Never demanded that Romney produce specifics about the programs he would cut.
  • Never mentioned Bain Capitol, Romney’s private equity firm, as a job-killing corporate predator.
  • Never attacked Romney for having personal assets in Swiss bank accounts.
  • Never mentioned the infamous “47%” videotape in which Romney contemptuously wrote off almost half of the electorate.

Obama is a supremely decent and rational man.  He seems to believe that if he is decent and reasonable toward his sworn enemies, they, in turn, will treat him the same way.

They haven’t.  And Obama has repeatedly failed to learn the only possible lesson from it.

As a result, he has endured relentless personal insults and the stonewalling of his legislation by Republicans in the House and Senate.

But it did not have to be this way.

More than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli, the Florentine patriot, offered this advice in The Prince, his primer on political science:

From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.  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 the prince who has relied solely on their words, without making other preparations, is ruined…. 

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.

Obama should have put this truth into practice with the case of South Carolina Rep. Joe Wilson.  It was Wilson who yelled “You lie!” at the President during his September 9, 2009 health care speech to Congress.

Wilson later apologized, and Rahm Emannuel, Obama’s Chief of Staff, accepted the apology on the President’s behalf.

Instead, Obama could–and should–have sent this directive to all Federal agencies: “If you have to make cutbacks, make them first in the Congressional district of Joe Wilson.”

When military bases and hospitals and highway projects started disappearing from Wilson’s district, word would have quickly gotten around: Don’t screw with Obama. 

During the Civil War, General William Tecumseh Sherman said of his Confederate enemies: “They cannot be made to love us, but they may be made to fear us.”

General William Texumseh Sherman

If Obama loses the election, the reason will be that, for all his brilliance as a Harvard graduate, he failed to learn and apply this most essential lesson.

%d bloggers like this: