Obama and Machiavelli

November 14, 2011

Political Theory

With the upcoming 2012 presidential campaigns already making headlines, there has never been a better time to reflect upon our country’s politics for the past 3 years. Led of course by our nation’s president, Barack Obama, has often been criticized for being too pragmatic in his policies. His attempts to foster a bipartisan environment in Washington have been construed as him being “soft” in many areas in which a firm stance might have been better. This can be seen in regards to this summer’s budget crisis, where an inability to compromise led to a downgrade in our country’s credit rating by S&P.

This aspect of Obama’s demeanor can sometimes have detrimental effects on his effectiveness as a leader. Many politicians before him have used a Machiavellian model in order to enact certain policies or facilitate a certain agenda. For example, JFK was known to dispatch his brother Bobby to deliver mob-style threats to opponents and those who did not support him in his electoral pursuits. Similarly, the Watergate scandal of Nixon’s administration is a clear example of a politician who would do nearly anything in attempts to derail opponents. While I would not suggest nor condone Obama  partaking in similar feats, the principle of adding a Machiavellian trait might benefit Obama’s re-election campaign in that it would prove to the nation that he is not so wishy-washy on many platforms.

In the upcoming months, Obama must deal with legislation such as the American Jobs Act, healthcare overhaul, addressing the budget deficit, immigration, and more. Do you believe that acting in a more Machiavellian way might help his re-election campaign? Where do you draw the line on when the ends do NOT justify the means?







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8 Comments on “Obama and Machiavelli”

  1. blevz Says:

    I think Machiavellian analysis is more interesting when applied to the Republican side. To many on the left it seems like they are purposefully preventing Obama from creating any legislation that would help the economy. Even in situations where their ideology is not at odds with the packages, Republicans have refused to budge. It looks as if the Republicans will go through any lengths to prevent any sort of recovery before the next election. Does the ends of getting oneself elected good enough to justify the continued recession of the entire US economy?
    This problem seems like something the Federalist papers would be interested in: What happens when those elected to office become their own factions with their own passions and opinions completely separate from the general populace? Or to put it more bluntly, what happens when parts within the government becomes its own faction? While the Federalist would probably conclude that that faction would not have the support to continue ruling for long, this does not seem to be what empirically has happened. As soon as politicians get elected, their decision making changes. No longer do they just care what is good for themselves or for their country (or whatever subset of the country they represent) but rather the good for their reelection in the future.

  2. elmatts25 Says:

    In my opinion, a more Machiavellian approach may be beneficial for Obama as a president, however it is probably a little late for it to benefit his re-election campaign. A more Machiavellian approach would entail doing anything in one’s power to reach the “end” goal, however amoral the acts may be. At first, I disagreed with this approach because I thought doing anything amoral was not right. However, amoral and immoral are very different. Amoral is the lack of morals where immoral is the violation of morals. The definition of what is “moral” is not the same thing for every person. Morals are a subjective term. I believe it is important for the president to act objectively rather than subjectively. If he did not consider “morals” while making decisions, he would be consequently acting more objectively. If a lack of morals means an increase in objectivity, then it would be more beneficial for a president to act amorally.
    The above statement is considerably controversial, and I do not believe that it would always be beneficial for a president to act amorally. However, I do agree that to an extent it would be helpful. If Obama did not consider “morals” and simply did what ever he deemed necessary to reach the “end” goal, he would be more successful.
    This opinion should be taken lightly because a Machiavellian approach raises a ridiculous amount of questions and limitations. What would happen if the end did not justify the means? Would it become a problem of dirty hands, even though the president was acting amorally?

  3. dannilevin9492 Says:

    I think people overlook the shape our country was in when Obama came into office. Not to be harsh, but George W. Bush drove our country into an unnecessarily long war and one of the worst economic downfalls aside from the Great Depression. After following Bush, any president, republic or democrat, would struggle to get our country back on our feet. Citizens of this country can blame our country’s lack of improvement on Obama’s lack of a Machiavellian approach,but not all great presidents have to have that outlook to create success. People need to look at the situation of the entire country and not just judge our status based on the president’s characteristics and abilities. While yes, perhaps a more Machiavellian approach could have made a difference, it could have had negative effects too. There has still been improvement in our country while Obama has been in office. And, although it may be late for him to take more of a Machiavellian approach this term,he can still advocate for and take this approach if he feels it would actually make a difference. As long as we have seen improvements in the past four years, there is no reason that we shouldn’t give Obama the chance he deserves.

    A Machiavellian approach doesn’t necessarily lead to success, it just involves people doing whatever necessary to reach a goal. While our country needs to tackle and overcome serious issues in society, taking a Machiavellian approach may get the job done, but not in the way that it should be. Because people using a Machiavellian approach are willing to take any measures to reach a goal, they can harm people on the way. Putting down members of our country in order to better us as a whole doesn’t really make sense, both in theory or reality. Every single member of our society attributes to the greatness of our country, so there is no such thing as putting others down in order to better ourselves in the end. Justifiable means will be the most accurate way to get the job done well, even if it takes longer.

  4. Danielle Studenberg Says:

    I agree with you in that Obama should step up his game since re-elections are right around the corner. Now is the time when citizens are scrutinizing our government and considering what those elected have done for our society. Yes, Obama is pragmatic to the point of being a “political enigma” but who is to say that he hasn’t done anything good for our society?

    First of all, Obama saved the collapse of the American automotive industry. He made GM restructure their corporation before bailing them out, while also giving incentive money helping them. Also, Obama has made education and the environment national priorities, which I believe is very important for our future and world as a whole. Lets not forget that our president won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 as well. These are only a few things out of many that Obama has accomplished, and I don’t think society has given him enough credit.

    Overall, winning the next presidential election should not be determined by “which candidate is the most Machiavellian,” but should determined by who will benefit society the most. Unlike other politicians Obama isn’t acting out of his own self-interest, which is why the public can’t pinpoint exactly what his leadership style is. Obama does need to make the public more informed on his decisions and opinions, but I think he has already accomplished a good amount while in office.

  5. ldahbour Says:

    “Do you believe that acting in a more Machiavellian way might help his re-election campaign?”

    That is a good question. I don’t necessarily think that Obama being ‘wishy-washy’, as you put it, makes him lacking in the Machiavelli department. In other words, maybe him enforcing bipartisanship could be a Machiavellian way of passing legislation. Traditionally, in the United States, the majorities in the House and Senate would overcome the voice of the minorities. Whether the president aligned with the majorities would determine the passivity of proposing a bill in Congress. If they conflicted, there would be gridlock. And if they were the same, it would be easier to pass policies that aligned with the interest of the president/party of majority. Obama, being a Democratic president, working with a Republican House and a barely Democratic Senate, hits lots of obstacles when trying to push forth his policies that he chanted in 2008.

    Of course, the Democrats that elected him expect a Democratic agenda with Democratic policies being enforced.But as I mentioned before, with conflicting interests in the Chambers of Congress, it is easier said than done. Obama obviously deals with this difficulty everyday and realizes that lines will have to be crossed if he wants a legacy and presidency of results that improve our nation rather than rhetoric that excites it. So, him embracing ideas from both sides, Republican and Democrat, is a move that may not please many people, but it could, and probably is, in the best interest of our country. So, his bipartisanship is a sign of Machiavellianism in a way. It may not be popular, as you cited, but he is doing it for results. If he changes the language being thrown around on this act, maybe his re-election campaign will thrive from his bipartisanship, rather than cause it to tank.

  6. bsrobin Says:

    This question is one that not only every American is thinking about but also Obama himself. Politicians are meant to be strong and stable figures that epitomize strength and power for the people of the respective country. Obama, needs to become a stronger figure for the American people to follow. Our country hit one of the most devastating recessions in 2008 and the American population has been extremely damaged. This is a time, more than ever in my lifetime, where a strong leader needs to emerge and take control over the country, the economy, and the American people. While Obama personality and demeanor may not change, his actions would speak louder than any of his words and that is the way he should strike fear into other countries, while inspiring the American people behind him.

    In the Machiavelli way, the leader should be strong but limitations still exist. Nothing illegal should be done by someone in power because then they are not upholding the very laws they strive to maintain. This means that Nixon’s watergate scandal is a terrible use of power especially because it was to win an election rather than to help the American people in anyway. Intimidation, however, as JFK sometimes did can be useful and can inspire more people to follow a leader. In Obama’s case, he should not intimidate American’s but he should intimidate other countries so more American’s have trust in him. Nothing illegal should ever be done in order to obtain a desired outcome and this Machiavelli even believed.

  7. maryblee Says:

    It is too late in the game for Obama to start acting in a Machiavellian way. Like many other people, I am disappointed by some of Obama’s actions and inactions in office. Because Obama didn’t clearly establish his power and leadership before the 2010 elections, the new Republican congress had no problem walking all over him. If Obama were to start channelling Machiavelli now, without time to see the outcomes, it would really hurt his reelection campaign. His actions would be interpreted as scandals, and maybe they would be scandals, and that is something his opponents would seize and wouldn’t allow to fly under the radar. Now is not the time for Obama to start acting in such controversial ways, not while he is trying to convince the American people that he is the good guy. If he were reelected however, his second term would be the perfect time to start employing Machiavellian tactics. Riding on popular opinion and no reelection threat, Obama in his second term has the opportunity to correct his mistakes from his first term.

  8. rmwells3 Says:

    In Obama’s opinion, yes maybe he should become more Machiavellian because most of his criticism stems from his indecisiveness and inability to put forth any pragmatic plan beneficial to Americans. However, he holds an office which is designed to protect and represent the best interests of the people. If he were to take a Machiavellian approach he would have to do it in the attempts of upholding that promise. That would be the only way that the ends justify the means. As of right now, Obama is playing the role of the fox and trying to play in favor of both sides by implementing bills that recognize both the Republican and Democratic attitude of things. However, the “soft” side of him shines ever too clearly because these bills he passes when trying to appease both sides create huge inconsistencies in the bill and sometimes even contradictory points within the bills. If he were to become more like the lion, short of threatening as seen under the Kennedy administration, but stern enough that there is no wavering than his criticism would diminish.

    Obama is an intelligent man and I don’t think anyone would argue with that. He has continued to follow his original ideology, it’s just that he isn’t willing to implement something without all sides being happy (or at least not without an attempt to do so) instead of just passing a bill in the face of harsh criticism. Obama’s public discontent with him and main problem is that in the tough of an economic situation like the one we are in he hasn’t done enough. If Obama were to be more of the Lion, the quality Machiavelli describes as a necessity of a great leader is something Obama is missing. If he were to apply the Lion and pass bills that feature his ideology and or objectives, despite criticism, we might approve his actions. He will be justified by his ends because he will finally be doing something the people want and need.

    I agree that right now might not be the best time for him to act in a Machiavellian way as it would be a little too late. However, if he was reelected, it would be a great time for him to put his foot down and finally, lead his people.

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