Not Machiavellian Enough

Part of President Obama’s problem is that his opponents do not fear him, and he too often seems to want to be loved. Have we read a single story of President Obama wreaking vengeance on a political enemy? Or even threatening it?

Note that the people who do fear Obama, because they think he’s a Black radical Kenyan socialist Muslim Black Panther palling around with terrorists do not count, for they only fear demons of their own making, or of their masters’ making.

Note also that I do not count the many stories of Obama attacking (google “hippie punching” if you don’t know what I mean) and betraying on his liberal supporters (think Elizabeth Warren or the public option or the nonexistent jobs bill) for, despite what he seems to think, those are not his enemies.

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6 Responses to Not Machiavellian Enough

  1. Jamie says:

    At the risk of sounding Machiavellian in my analysis, I think you mistake his enemies. Ask a would-be whistleblower who they fear.

  2. I take Obama’s enemies to be the Republican leadership in the House and Senate, the radical right (including the so-called Tea Party faction and the leading media propagandists), and their paymasters.

    You are right to note that the Obama administration has been assiduous in punishing whistleblowers, just as they are setting records for rounding up undocumented immigrants, but I’d say that neither group are in fact their enemies. It may be though, as you suggest, that the real problem is not that Team Obama cannot strike fear in hearts, but rather that they mistake their enemies.

  3. Altoid says:

    I don’t know that I subscribe to it, but a theory could be developed that their lack of fear is drawing these opponents out in ways that can alienate them from the public, or at least the middle-of-the-road public. That kind of self-abnegating rope-a-dope seems to be affecting the teapers, according to most recent polls. It would be a kind of shape-shifting ju-jitsu that encourages the opponents to wear themselves out on chimeras and get over-confident enough to show the public too much.

    Whether that tactic could extend to moneyed interests seems to be the bigger question. The S&P downgrade at least opens up that possibility because the report does point to gop refusal to allow any additional revenue, and willingness to gamble with the debt limit, as factors in the change. In a system ruled by money, it could be that only the money agencies speak a language that’s meaningful to the ruling folks.

    But I don’t know. If that *is* his strategy, he’s not been very effective at either mobilizing or personifying the moral force of the country in any active way. It could be that just enduring in the face of these death threats and staying upright while everybody else is doing their damnedest to knock him down will be enough, in time.

    If that’s his strategy, it’s very hard on people who started out supporting him. That protean approach gives them little to hold on to.

    The thing I least understand is his refusal to stand with, consult, support, congressional democrats in any meaningful public way. Though I understand triangulation and all that, I still think it’s bizarre not to stand with your allies, or to let them so visibly squabble ineffectually before stepping in, as with the health care bill. And I think it’s useful to state and explain positions that can’t ultimately prevail; one good reason is that it helps people understand where you come from, and another is that it can help move eventual compromises closer to where you want to be.

    Not to mention policy choices the administration has freely made that I think are profoundly wrong, probably rooted in what Krugman calls fresh-water economics that he appears to subscribe to. But that goes to substance in a way I don’t think you mean to address here.

  4. Kenneth Fair says:

    This struck me as a huge problem in the health care debate. I always thought it would have been far easier to pass the ACA, and the bill would have been far better, if Obama and the Democratic leadership had picked an enemy–the insurance companies–and pounded them mercilessly. Everybody hates insurance companies. The Democrats could have aligned themselves with patients being denied coverage, people who couldn’t afford coverage, employers struggling to pay higher and higher premiums, and health care providers tired of being slow-paid and made to jump through hoops. They could have told PhRMA and the AMA, “Get on board with us and we’re going to lard you up,” and told AHIP to pound sand. Every time the Republicans said something about the bill, accuse them of putting insurance companies ahead of patients and doctors. The goodwill and public support this would have generated would have more than made up for the loss of insurance company campaign contributions.

    Except, of course, that the insurance industry owned Joe Lieberman.

  5. Altoid says:

    Really, it’s just standard retail politics his supporters want, not Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s complicated, involves planning levels of dissembling, and all that stuff.

    For old-fashioned retail politics look at, say, Plunkitt of Tammany Hall. Or the section in All the King’s Men where Willy Stark discovers that plodding earnestness doesn’t hold a candle to, what was it, little kids getting killed on a faulty fire escape?

    If Obama wanted to, he could easily define situations in ways that leave republicans exposed. He would then have the dual advantage of having the public on his side and of being right. The hardest part would be distilling these definitions into short enough statements for the hostile media to play in full. Yet he continuously refuses to do anything like that and instead insists on proposing only those things he persuades himself the obstructionists might allow. Some of us call this “negotiating with himself.” It is profoundly dispiriting to see.

    It looks like small ball, timidity, weakness. And unless there’s something deep and profoundly Larry Ellison or Phil Jackson going on, that has to be what it is.

  6. NB says:

    There was talk of major strongarming by Obama of progressive lawmakers for the first Afghan war escalation vote, up to the point of threatening to never support them in anything (i.e. no campaigning, no sending big donors their way).

    So there have been threats (and there are more accounts of him being very petty when losing), just not on issues that make people’s lives actually better.

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