Sunday, June 22, 2008

Machiavellian And The War of Words

For the past two weeks there has been a word that keeps cropping up in the talks of the Republican attack dogs and in the right leaning media types discussions of Senator Obama. I find it striking that so many of them have coincidently begun using the same word in the criticisms of the Senator. The reason that I think it is important to point out this coincidence is because they are actually code-speak for white males. The word that keeps cropping up is Machiavellian. I first heard it on CNN Newsroom last week when the anchor person was discussing Senator Obama’s speech at a church on Father’s Day and his call for black fathers to step up and become more involved in raising their children.

The reason this particular episode stuck out to me was that I was watching the show at my folk’s house and while they are fairly intelligent people they never attended college so they were never exposed to the book, “The Prince” by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli; an Italian diplomat. For those who also may not be familiar with the author or the book, it is basically a story of how to gain and maintain political power through in many cases dubious and ruthless means. The gist of the story is that the ends justifies the means and in politics most all behavior is fair. My father asked me what did that word “Machiavellian” meant right after the announcer said it. Even though he didn’t know what it meant, he could tell that it wasn’t used in a complimentary manner.

In my explanation of the word and the history surrounding it I made the mistake of saying the author was French instead of Italian. I explained to them that basically it was a story of how one gains political power through devious means. My father then responded, “So he is saying don’t believe what Obama is saying because he is a ni**er?” I said not exactly but you could come away with that impression.

Machiavelli's best known book is The Prince, in which he describes the arts by which a Prince (a ruler) can retain control of his realm. He focuses primarily on what he calls the "new prince", under the assumption that a hereditary prince has an easier task since the people are accustomed to him. All a hereditary prince needs to do is carefully maintain the institutions that the people are used to; a new prince has a much more difficult task since he must stabilize his newfound power and build a structure that will endure. This task requires the Prince to be publicly above reproach but privately may require him to do immoral things in order to achieve his goals.[1]

This little incident in and of itself would not have caused me great alarm except as the week progressed I began to hear the term more and more in the same sentence with Senator Obama. It’s as if the talking points of the Republican attack machine for the week was this Machiavellian thing. It was being echoed across the airwaves. And then in today’s New York Times one of the chief Republican apologist op-ed columnist David Brooks is echoing the same tune. The code is not that Obama is black and therefore untrustworthy although there will be those who come away with that impression. No the code is far more nefarious than that, it is that he is in reality saying that he is for change, but the truth is that he is an ambitious black man who wants to tilt the table towards blacks. Thus reinforcing the fear of many angry white men who believe that this is the beginning of their losing their “rightful” place in America.

This guy is the whole Chicago package: an idealistic, lakefront liberal fronting a sharp-elbowed machine operator. He’s the only politician of our lifetime who is underestimated because he’s too intelligent. He speaks so calmly and polysyllabically that people fail to appreciate the Machiavellian ambition inside.[2]

In the discussion on CNN following the speech the announcer stated that though he could not speak to what was in Senator Obama’s heart, it was still his job to ask the question. I’m sorry but where in his job description or any reporters job description does it say that questioning the hearts of other men was part of their job duties? Would this same reporter ask the Pope if he truly believed in God? Of course not, but for some reason to question the faith of Senator Obama is fair game. What they are really saying is that he is not grounded in faith but in a selfish desire to rule and that he would use anything including God to accomplish this goal. As if God were a requirement for the office that he seeks. Where were these “faith checkers” during the Bush administration when Mr. Bush was proclaiming his faith and that Jesus was his role model while he sent young men and women to their deaths in a war that was not only unnecessary but based on lies?

SANCHEZ: But here's the question. This guy's there trying to sound or sounding or being sincere. I'm not getting into his heart. I'm not going to read what he's actually doing.

I guess the question to you as an analyst is: Is this really Barack Obama sharing something with him that's very real and very personal, or is this a politician taking a Machiavellian step to try and get voters he otherwise wouldn't get?[3]

SANCHEZ: Let's go now to the debut of Preston on politics. CNN political editor Mark Preston is joining us live.

Mark, let's do this. Let's talk first about the politics side of this faith angle. Listen, I don't want to sound jaded and some are going to criticize me for it, but I guess it's part of my job. So let me just ask you straight out.

He does this in an effort to cut into that sizable John McCain white male lead, doesn't he? I mean, this is a values play by Barack Obama. He says trust in the Lord. When was the last time you heard a Democrat in church using language like that?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: It's a couple of different things there, Rick. First of all it is political. Everything Barack Obama does now until now November is political. Everything John McCain does from now until November is political. In the end, it's very unlikely Barack Obama is going to win a majority of these evangelical voters, these conservative evangelical voters.

But what they're looking for is they're trying to reach out and hit those moderate voters. Those moderate evangelicals who are fed up with the Republican Party.[4]

First Senator Obama catches hell for going to the wrong Church for 20 years, then he gets it for saying that he relies on faith in God when times get tough. As a Christian myself I can understand where he is coming from. There are times when all I can do to hang on and keep from going crazy in this world is to rely on my faith in God. There is a passage in the Bible that states,” To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.”[5] In other words if my heart is corrupt then I believe that everyone else’s is corrupt as well and I can justify my behavior no matter how despicable based on that belief.

[5] Titus 1:15

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