Mostly I don’t read David Brooks, for a number of reasons. To begin with, I don’t trust the Times, though on the other hand I’ve removed the Post from my bookmark list and speed dial since the Froomkin affair made plain how committed Hiatt is to the neocon/neolib agenda.
But if there’s anything to be said for poor clueless Dave, it’s that he’s a reliable bellwether for the neocon equivalent of the wimpy liberals I’ve ragged on so often. Now that Obama appears to be putting actual political capital behind the push for some sort of public option, the right wing is in full dress alarmitude. Omigod, people who aren’t rich might have health care! What is this country coming to…
Who’s going to stop this leftward surge? Months ago, it seemed as if Obama would lead a center-left coalition. Instead, he has deferred to the Old Bulls on Capitol Hill on issue after issue.
Machiavelli said a leader should be feared as well as loved. Obama is loved by the Democratic chairmen, but he is not feared. On health care, Obama has emphasized cost control. The chairmen flouted his priorities because they don’t fear him. On cap and trade, Obama campaigned against giving away pollution offsets. The chairmen wrote their bill to do precisely that because they don’t fear him. On taxes, Obama promised that top tax rates would not go above Clinton-era levels. The chairmen flouted that promise because they don’t fear him.
One of the joys of reading Old Nick is realizing what a small proportion of his promoters have read anything he wrote. Does Brooks, for example, realize that Machiavelli was tortured for his participation in a republican government after the Medicis’ mercenary army retook Florence?
For his significant role in the republic’s anti-Medici government, Niccolò Machiavelli was deposed from office, and, in 1513, was accused of conspiracy, and arrested. Despite torture “with the rope” (the prisoner is hanged from his bound wrists, from the back, forcing the arms to bear the body’s weight, thus dislocating the shoulders), he denied involvement and was released; then, retiring to his estate, at Santa Andrea in Percussina, near Florence, he wrote the political treatises that earned his intellectual place in the development of political philosophy and political conduct.
In the interpretation of Machiavelli, it’s difficult to find an appropriate terminology. Intellectually the flower of two millennia of Italian political maneuvering, he came to be associated with Satan because he told the truth about power politics.
Just for the hell of it, what say we check in on the actual text? It’s Chapter 17 (or XVII if you like) of The Prince:
Returning to the question of being loved or feared, I sum up by saying, that since his being loved depends upon his subjects, while his being feared depends upon himself, a wise Prince should build only upon what is his own, and not on what rests with others. Only, as I have said, he must do his utmost to escape hatred.
Interestingly, if you actually read Machiavelli and know his personal history, you can easily discern what many others have seen, that in The Prince he is by no means advocating the behavior necessary to become and remain a prince; rather, he’s pointing out what a sleazy business princing is. This impression is heavily reinforced by The Discourses, wherein his preference for the republic is clearly expressed.
In the just-quoted passage, for example, note that the issue throughout is the maintenance by the prince of his power and privilege. The welfare of the people in his domain is a relatively trivial thing; it reflects on his character, but has no separate importance.
Oddly enough, in those days the prince was probably more likely to pay for what health care was available than he is now, because his long-term interest lay with having enough hands to bring in the harvest. Everyone who can work needs to be kept alive is the theory, still, though it be dressed up in fancy garb.
Obama might try to rein in the insurance leeches, for example, but Mr. Brooks is having none of it, because the President has lost his scary mojo.
It’s a good idea, and it might lead to real cost savings. But there’s no reason to think that it will be incorporated into the final law. The chairmen will never surrender power to an administration they can override.
That leaves matters in the hands of the Blue Dog Democrats. These brave moderates are trying to restrain the fiscal explosion. But moderates inherently lack seniority (they are from swing districts). They are usually bought off by leadership at the end of the day.
Ya gotta love this image of the brave moderate, soldiering on in the face of an unending ocean of radicalism that so clearly dominates US politics. (And we let these people vote!)