Trending Toward Machiavelli

As pundits debate the political fall-out of the Edwards-Kerry one-two outing of Mary Cheney in their respective debates, two other interesting questions lurk. First, why did they do it? Kerry’s window-dressing answer that he was simply complementing the Vice President’s family is pretentious and unbelievable in any quarter.

William Safire, in his column today, looks to pro-Kerry columnist Margaret Carlson for an answer. She wrote that Kerry and Edwards “realize that discussing Mary Cheney is a no-lose proposition: It highlights the hypocrisy of the Bush-Cheney position to Democrats while simultaneously alerting evangelicals to the fact that the Cheney’s have an actual gay person in their household whom they apparently aren’t trying to convert or cure.”

Some of the most famous political dirty tricks beg for an answer to the question: “Why?” More than 30 years after the break-in at the Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building in Washington, no one has answered the fundamental question of why Nixon operatives ordered the break-in.

Nixon’s special counsel Charles Colson says to this day that he cannot figure out why the Watergate office was of enough interest to the Nixon campaign to risk an illegal act. Colson has heard all of the theories and rejected them. In his view, there was no good reason. (He also contends that there is no one person who could have all of the information that Woodward and Bernstein attributed to Deep Throat, and that the source so-named had to be a composite of several sources. The fact that Deep Throat has not been named, even after Nixon’s death and the death of so many Watergate figures, gives some credence to this suggestion.)

In addition to “Why?” we can ask the question: “By what means?” Is everything “fair game,” as Kerry campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill put it?

Perhaps we have come to the way of Machiavelli: “Let a prince then concern himself with the acquisition or the maintenance of the state; the means employed will always be considered honorable and praised by all, for the mass of mankind is always swayed by appearances and by the outcome of an enterprise,” wrote Niccolo Machiavelli in 1513, lauding the use of any means to win, for in the winning the means will be blessed.

Is there enough of a “community of character” in the nation that there will be a backlash against campaigns that do not respect the privacy of family or any personal matters?

The antidote to Machiavelli is early Bostonian John Cotton, a father of New England congregationalism, who wrote in the 1630’s: “Now faith is like a poise: it keeps the heart in an equal frame: whether matters fall out well or ill, faith moderates the frame of a man’s spirit on both sides.”

Commenting on these early American Puritans, British scholar Os Guinness said: “Puritans acted as if they had swallowed gyroscopes; moderns act as if they have swallowed Gallup Polls.”

Can we expect that our leaders will be guided by a personal gyroscope that will direct them away from ends-by-any-means campaigning or governing? Will public discourse and strategy follow Machiavelli or Cotton?

Unfortunately, it seems that the polls are trending toward Machiavelli.

–James Jewell

About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group ( Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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