Thursday, March 29, 2007

Machiavellian Politics

Politics have been studied and analyzed for a very long time, and written about for very nearly as long as writing has existed. One of the best known, and most reviled writers on the subject is Machiavelli; his book, The Prince, is a classic and much misunderstood work. The most often quoted piece of the book is, "the ends justify the means." The cliche term for short-sighted vicious politics is "Machiavellian."

This is not quite accurate, Machiavelli put forth solutions to problems and generally several solutions for a problem. A common problem was a noble plotting against the ruler, several solutions were mentioned, banishment of the noble, banishment of the noble and his family, confiscation of family property, killing the noble, killing the noble and his family, etc, etc. Along with the solutions came analysis of probable outcomes. Oddly enough, considering his reputation, Machiavelli preferred to take the long-term outlook and the solution that favored it. For instance, banishment put the noble out of reach and free to stir up trouble, compounded if the family was also banished by more people stirring the pot and the extended family/associates resentment, confiscation worked the same way and stirred resentment among others of property and other members of the family, killing creates martyrs, etc. There really is a need for a new adjective describing short-sighted vicious politics; I think maybe the term could be Rovian, as in Karl.

I've heard Rove described as a genius, or by perfectly good lefties, a despicable genius. I disagree, what has passed for genius is simply the willingness to use whatever means are available for short term gain, reflective of certain elements in 18th and 19th Century politics, the nastier elements. He is a nasty man who plays dirty for a short term payoff. The problem with this approach is illustrated by the current BushCo poll numbers and the general reputation of the Republican Party. Any political movement generates opposition, this is normal and to be expected, but opposition is a different animal from enemies. Rovian politics creates enemies, these are mortal foes, they will not agree with you and they will seek your downfall and expend serious assets to bring it about. People in general will begin to see through lies and be offended for being taken and become enemies. The art of politics becomes slash and burn warfare, a policy of scorched earth with little regard for the welfare of the state. Policy decisions become hostage to the accrual of power and failed policies become sacrosanct - the expenditure in their implementation now drives their continuation, the leader cannot fail. Fear becomes a handy weapon, but it is a very blunt instrument and the objects of its use soon tire of it or become inured to its effects.

Politics is about getting things accomplished, power is an aspect of that end but it is not the prime mover. In a system like ours you may have the power to force things through, for a while, but at some point the opposition must be taken into account. The trick is to offer something to the opposition that will take some of the sting out while showing the voters a willingness to "work together" and be "reasonable." If it is impossible to give the opposition enough to bring them into the process then it is of paramount importance to show them the respect of listening and debating the issue. You cannot afford more than a handful of enemies. There are going to be times when there is a congruence in your ends and the opposition's ends and their cooperation will be needed to succeed, it is important that they are not your enemies at that point.

Karl Rove has essentially two strategies, the accrual of power and the demonization (and thereby discrediting) of opponents. All government and it's appurtenances (media, etc) become objects of political advantage and the consolidation of power. Opponents no longer are policy opponents they become traitors and agents of class (etc) warfare. In the short run it is possible to show real gains with this methodology, in the long run real problems arise and depending on the force of application the recoil can be tremendous.

The latest problem, the US Attorneys, is a perfect example. The DOJ is subject to political appointments, the tenor of the establishment is going to be set by the AG and the political leanings of the operational end - US Attorneys - can be determined. This works well for instituting a philosophy of operation, but it is a poor way to accrue power. The DOJ enforces the laws and those laws apply to all citizens, if it becomes obvious that the law is being used as a political power lever or cudgel, the populous becomes unhappy and the other power centers become very unhappy. The general population is pretty law-abiding, primarily because they see reasonableness in the laws and a general application of them, remove these considerations and the people who write them begin to worry about being paid attention to. Rovian politics determines that a narrow advantage in voter roles outweighs public perception of law-enforcement. The math is extremely faulty, the few votes that might be discarded are long-term overwhelmed by public anger and political backlash.

This is exactly what has happened repeatedly in the last couple years and a solid Republican edge has not only dwindled but been put in serious danger of becoming a long term small minority. Best to leave Machiavelli out of the adjectives describing this Administration's politics, he was pretty good at it, this stuff is strictly Rovian. (and Bush league)


Les AuCoin said...


I'm one who has called Rove--and Gingrich--"evil geniuses." It's not only that they are willing to use any means to their ends. It's the lethal way they chose to use those means.

Of course, evil geniuses can fall, as did Gingrich (although no wooden stake was proverbially plunged into his heart and we can look for him to try to rise again in the 2008 presidential election if he sees an opening. And Rove may yet fall.

But I saw the evil genius of Gingrich when he took down House Speaker Jim Wright (whom Newt said he had to destroy because Wright had the makings of a modern day Henry Clay). The so-called Contract with America was also a masterstroke--a terrible one for the poor, the infirm, the middle class, veterans, and just about everyone except Yacht club millionaires.

And Rove's diabolical but deft decision to use the worker unionization issue in the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (just one of many examples) succeeded portraying one Saxby Chambliss more patriotic than Democratic Senator Max Cleland, a multiple amputee and veteran of Vietnam.

Just my thoughts.

Always enjoy visiting your blog.

Jeff Alworth said...

I'd make a distinction about Rove's genius. He is clearly a genius at elective politics. He managed to get Dubya elected twice, partly through hardball, but also by building an impressive machine. He managed to take a guy who should have very little popular support, based on his resume and accomplishment, and get him elected to the governor's mansion and then the White House. (Yeah, he gamed the system, too--also smart.)

But where he was stunningly boneheaded was his manipulation of public policy. He thought he could use laws to reward patrons and punish foes and that this would never bite the WH in the ass. He was half right. Now we're seeing what six years of this has wrought. It's a lesson for Dems--hire the street fighters to get you elected and then ban them from entering the building until you are running again.

joycemocha said...

How much did Rove learn from Dick Tuck?

That said, Tuck's stuff always had a touch of humor about it. Rove's humorless.

KISS said...

Good to see another reader of "The Prince" I always enjoyed the part of what face to show to the crowd and which one to never let the crowd see.While the dimmos are exacting blood from Rove as with Gingrich, let us not forget the Daily Chicago machines and good ol Bubba.Like FDR, Buba was a master at calling a bluff and playing victim when necessary, and promoting enemies to a vapid position. The Shrub has little inclination of what is happening, the same as Reagan. While dimmos slept Rove has masterminded a take-over of government and the dimmos seem powerless to prevent more from happening. Only the destitution of the populace will change direction in 2008. Not the incompetent dimmos that have held office way too long. like the Schummersand Kennedy's are blocks of incompetence. I'm hopping the new breed of dimmos are more astute and demanding than the weak-knee [she who must be served]Pelosi.

Chuck Butcher said...

Les and Jeff make overlapping points regarding Rove's "genius." I don't agree that it is genius, there is a street cunning cut-throat quality to Rove that works in the short run. That short run is the key to my disagreement. An armed robber at a convenience store has money when he gets out of the door but he has set in motion a series of events which will end in disaster, sure, he's got bucks for awhile but the outcome is very nearly guaranteed and it sucks. This is not genius, it's thuggery. It works because most people are not thugs and they don't look for it or know how to deal with it, even partisans don't look. As for the 2nd Bush election, that race was Kerry's to lose, and he managed it. Sure, he had help doing it, unfortunately some of it was his own hired help.

While I despise the Newt, I also believe most of his downfall was a direct outcome of his personal life view rather than political machinations gone south. I'm pretty sure he's quite a bit smarter than Karl, he worries me more than Rove as well.

I don't know Kiss, currently the Dems are playing this well. They've put the Prez & Republicans in a fairly neat box, I don't envy them, it'll be a tough exit from this one. The prez will veto the military funding, the repubs will sustain it, the dems could send another essentially identical bill through, same/same, and then give him the money stringless, except the clear statement that he was given 2 chances to get out, he wouldn't, the dems refuse to harm the troops in the face of his lunacy; and the Republicans OWN the disaster, now until memories fade. The problem is not political, it is the deaths and injuries over the next 2 years.

I don't think Rove learned anything from Dick.

Chuck Butcher said...

I definitely defer to Les regarding Newt, he's seen this up close. There's little doubt Newt is a prick personally and a cutthroat politically, but what he set in motion lasted until Nov 06 and Rove's come-uppance. Rove hasn't paid personally and he may not, but his Party sure has and will.

I'm serious about Rove, if you track what's befallen the Rs over the last 2 years, it all falls back on Rovian politics.

BTW, I don't get a lot of comments, but I'm impressed with the Roster, thanks.