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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 10/20/09

Obama, Harry Reid, and Machiavelli

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Whether one is seeking to lead a country, a legislative chamber, a state, a city, a corporation or a department, The Prince by Machiavelli should be required reading. But as perhaps one of the two most consequent matters confronting the country today truly is of life and death moment, health care reform (the other being what to do relative to troop strength in Afghanistan), and because the two national leaders who have primary responsibility concerning the issue's outcome are President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, this missive will focus on Machiavelli's recommendations, as they pertain to these two Democrats.

Chapter 17 of The Prince is entitled, "Of Cruelty, and Whether It Is Better to Be Loved or Feared." Machiavelli claims "with a very few exceptions, he [the prince, or, a leader, in this writing] will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise, from whence spring bloodshed and rapine; for these as a rule injure the whole community, while the executions carried out by the prince injure only individuals."

The author furthermore explains, "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 obligation which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose; but fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails." And, "men love at their own free will, but fear at the will of the prince."

Or as brought to the modern age by General George S Patton, "May God have mercy on my enemies, because I won't."

Like it, or hate it, the preceding compose essential qualities in a leader. Machiavelli, however, emphatically opined that the prince must never be, or be seen to be, fickle or inconsistent, in his cruelties. His subordinates must be able to see them as in some way justified and rare. They must "be able to depend on him."

What has any of this to do with the present health care reform issue? Everything, if we consider its fate as being in the hands of Obama and Reid. Both men retain the title and offices of leader. What is confounding those who elevated them to their posts the armies of progressive volunteers who labored long and feverishly to register, then motivate the even greater armies of first-time voters to cast ballots on behalf of a progressive agenda is that neither appear to be manifesting the qualities their respective posts and this challenge require. Bi-partisanship and comity are laudable goals, if, and only if, they can be reconciled with the overriding objective. In and of themselves, they will result in the chaotic ravages predicted by Machiavelli, the products of the "excess of tenderness."

Montana Senator Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee, told the country that his job was to "produce a bill that would secure enough votes to overcome a Republican filibuster." WRONG! Senator Baucus. That would be analogous to a personnel manager saying his (or her) job was to hire workers, when what is needed are workers who meet the employer's needs. Not just any bill, and not just any workers.

I hold in loathing, as I held it through the previous administration, almost everything the Republicans did and stood for. The single exception, however was marked by awe: Their willingness and ability to lead, and not care a whit what Democrats or liberals or progressives thought. That, and their readiness to levy heavy punishment on those Republicans who felt inclined to some other disposition than that enunciated by the administration and the legislative leadership. This isn't to lift the first hint of stench from the lies and the slander and the libel they broadcast thoughtlessly. Not at all. Rather, it points once again to the matter of leadership and the vital role that discipline (fear of punishment) plays in leading.

President Obama must come down with both feet firmly planted on the line of a "public option." He must be fearless, and fully prepared to strew the landscape with the corpses of his enemies. (Figuratively, of course.) They must fear him. If he hasn't done so yet, Obama must make it clear, though not yet public, that, in the case of Pennsylvania's Arlen Specter and his pledge to campaign for the nee-Republican/now Democrat, that any failure to vote to end a Republican filibuster, and any failure to vote for the "public option" will result in a dramatic change of the president's heart, and a canceling of his pledge of support. And Obama must make it clear to every other Democrat who crosses him that the same fate awaits them as well.

As to the so-called senate majority leader . . .. There are 16 standing committees* in the Senate:
Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, chaired by Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln
Appropriations, chaired by Hawaii's Daniel Inouye
Armed Services, chaired by Michigan's Carl Levin
Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, chaired by Connecticut's Chris Dodd
Budget, chaired by North Dakota's Kent Conrad
Commerce, Science and Transportation, chaired by West Virginia's Jay Rockefeller
Energy and Natural Resources, chaired by New Mexico's Jeff Bingaman**
Environment and Public Works, chaired by California's Barbara Boxer
Finance . . . Max Baucus
Foreign Relations, chaired by Massachusetts' John Kerry
Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, chaired by Iowa's Tom Harkin
Homeland Security and governmental Affairs, chaired by Connecticut's Joe Lieberman
Judiciary, chaired by Vermont's Patrick Leahy
Rules and Administration, chaired by New York's Chuck Schumer
Small Business and Entrepreneurship, chaired by Louisiana's Mary Landrieu
Veteran's Affairs, chaired by Hawaii's Danny Akaka

* Chairs who are most probable of not supporting a cloture vote are in bold italics. (A cloture vote is one made the purpose of which is to end a filibuster, thus facilitating an up-or-down, simple majority vote on a bill.)
** Senator Bingaman, in that he is among the more conservative Democrats, is suspect on the cloture matter, he has also held his hand so closely to his vest that no prediction is possible.

What Senator Reid must do, if he is to act as an authentic leader, is to first proclaim in no terms uncertain his allegiance to the "public option," then make it clear that those senators unwilling to vote for cloture will be in probable jeopardy of not retaining their committee chairs. (For those among the rest of us who may not be as informed as they might be concerning committee chairmanships, they are the most highly prized prerogatives in the chamber. The chair holds almost dictatorial sway over that committee: he or she alone can decide if and when a particular hearing will be held, and who the witnesses will be, and whether a bill assigned to the committee will be heard . . .. In other words, chairmanship is everything dear to that senator.) The majority leader must, as is the case for the president, be fully prepared to slay his foes and leave their bleeding bodies in the well of the Senate. (Again, figuratively.) As in the words of Machiavelli, yet while they may love him, they must fear him more. And, as to punishment, more than anything else, "they must be able to depend on him."

Indeed, over the issue of a "public option," the immediate future of the Democratic Party quite veritably is now in the hands of Senator Reid and President Obama. They either lead according to Machiavelli's fundamentals, or they will find the party's majority reign will have been terribly short lived. The base is very restless, and will not be kind to those who took its probable ire lightly.


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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."
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