When seeking office, the aspirant must pretend to be what he is not. After seizing power, he should impose his agenda quickly and ruthlessly before his subjects realize what he is doing and have time to react.
Sound familiar? It might, but this approach was designed 500 years before the Barack Obama campaign in 2008.
Niccolò Machiavelli, a 16th century Florentine diplomat and bureaucrat, was the author of The Prince, a treatise on ruling successfully through the pragmatic exercise of power. Because Machiavelli had no concern for morality, but rather counseled ruthless pragmatism, his name has become a synonym for cunning political manipulation and deceit. However, Machiavelli's clear-eyed understanding of human nature and political behavior, has made his work a classic. In the course of his expensive education at top schools, could Barack Obama have failed to read it?
Those who wonder at the speed with which Obama, aided and abetted by the congressional Democrats, is moving away from traditional American ways need only read The Prince, in which Machiavelli advises,
"For injuries ought to be done all at one time, so that, being tasted less, they offend less; benefits ought to be given little by little, so that the flavor of them may last longer."
To win office, Obama pretended to be a tax-cutting centrist. Voters who fell for the ruse only now are seeing his dark socialist side, financed by debt that inevitably will lead to confiscatory taxation. Now, he moves with alacrity to pass revolutionary budgets, establish programs, seize assets, and never let a crisis go to waste.
President Obama has also shown a willingness to break campaign promises and lie. Machiavelli suggested that a prince should only keep his word when it suits his purposes -- but should do his utmost to maintain the illusion that he does keep his word.
In short order, Obama has plunged the nation into record debt, after a cynical campaign in which he (and the suddenly-uninquisitive media) ignored his own lack of credentials while criticizing the sitting president for excessive spending and debt.
After taking office, Obama swiftly assumed control of the census and has involved his activist community-organizing chums at ACORN in the process. That is likely to lead to sudden population gains in liberal Rust Belt states with declining populations, thus building an enduring political structure for liberal Democrats.
In addition, he is rushing toward socialized medicine, trade protectionism and nationalized businesses. Rather than being bold new initiatives, these are merely steps toward the socialist Utopia anti-capitalist liberals have pursued for nearly a century.
This new prince came to power with no track record, no experience, nothing but empty rhetoric.
As he addresses real and difficult problems, and his blunders mount up, however, opposition to Obama's rule is increasing -- even as Machiavelli warned:
"Those who solely by good fortune become princes from being private citizens have little trouble in rising, but much in keeping atop; they have not any difficulties on the way up, because they fly, but they have many when they reach the summit."
Machiavelli warned, for example, against lavishing benefits upon the population. Being overly generous is not wise, because eventually all resources will be exhausted, resulting in higher taxes, which foster resentment.
A new ruler should also take care when his subjects have a tradition of freedom because
"... he who becomes master of a city accustomed to freedom and does not destroy it, may expect to be destroyed by it, for in rebellion it has always the watchword of liberty and its ancient privileges as a rallying point, which neither time nor benefits will ever cause it to forget."
President Obama seems on course to limit Second Amendment, and has spoken of a civilian national security force as powerful and well-funded as the military.
Machiavelli's advice on business, however, does not seem to be heeded by the President:
"A prince ought also to show himself a patron of ability, and to honor the proficient in every art. At the same time he should encourage his citizens to practice their callings peaceably, both in commerce and agriculture, and in every other following, so that the one should not be deterred from improving his possessions for fear lest they be taken away from him or another from opening up trade for fear of taxes; but the prince ought to offer rewards to whoever wishes to do these things and designs in any way to honor his city or state."
Nothing there suggests punishing success in order to redistribute income, or "spread it around a little."
In truth, Machiavelli, as a guide to ruthless acquisition of power, is rivaled and probably surpassed in Obama's mind by Saul Alinsky. Obama was a community organizer before entering politics, a follower of the Saul Alinsky method of community organizing. Forty years ago, Obama's Secretary of State did a college paper on the radical Alinsky in which she noted that power was to Alinsky the "very essence of life" and that conflict was necessary to acquire power.
In defense of his pursuit of power, Alinsky wrote,
"We have become involved in bypaths of confusion or semantics... The word 'power' has through time acquired overtones of sinister corrupt evil, unhealthy immoral Machiavellianism, and a general phantasmagoria of the nether regions."
How odd that a man who dedicates his major work, Rules for Radicals, in part to Satan, felt the need to distance himself from Machiavellianism.
Lloyd Brown is a retired editorial page editor, and occasional blogger.