Post 19: Machiavelli of the Senate- Mitch McConnell’s Assault on Obama Era Policy

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US Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP).

It is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong.”

  • Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

In 1513, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a treatise for Italian ruler Lorenzo de Medici. Titled ‘The Prince’, it was primarily a handbook for kings, and a guide for restoring the Medici family after its collapse in 1494. [1]

In particular, Machiavelli’s prescription for governing in the wake of defeat was uncompromising realism- cold and calculated authority was necessary to tame mankind’s inherent evils. To maintain authority, a ruler must control their own fortune and possess traits such as discipline and guile. [2]

Over the last 9 years, no member of congress has embodied Machiavelli’s instructions on operating after political collapse more than Senator Mitch McConnell.

Since Barack Obama’s 2008 election, McConnell has approached his duties with Machiavellian vigor-  preemptively assaulting political foes and pursuing legislation for benefit of his party and not the public good.

In the months leading to Obama’s inauguration, a sense of optimism was in the air. Obama had won on a unifying message- the amalgamation of red and blue states into one country- and seemed poised to usher in a new era of bipartisanship.

On the other hand, Republicans had suffered greatly in the election, losing the White House and congress. Perhaps even more foreboding were the implications of Obama’s message: broad democratic support could indefinitely sideline the Republican agenda.

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Senator McConnell fought against President Obama’s agenda, and continues to do so today. (Politico.com).

In response, McConnell went on a Machiavellian assault of the Obama administration. In October 2010, McConnell told the National Journal that “The single most important thing we (Republicans) want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” [3]

Machiavelli advised a similar approach in dealing with political foes. He believed it was better to strike first, for such rulers are “more ferocious, and command with greater authority.” [4]

McConnell approached Obama’s agenda with similar ferocity. Rather than review the administration’s proposals, or coordinate policy, McConnell chose to attack with the goal of deposing Obama. Simply, Obama’s philosophy of bipartisanship, and the amount of support it might garner, posed too large a threat to Republican ideals. It had to be put down.

Additionally, McConnell’s proclivity for Machiavellian assault was demonstrated in the Merrick Garland Supreme Court nomination. In unprecedented fashion, McConnell refused to even consider Garland. Here, McConnell again made the first move- following Machiavelli’s call to “take away many advantages from the enemy”- and circumvented the constitutional norms for seating a Supreme Court Justice. [5]

Even more, McConnell’s handling of Obamacare reform aligns with Machiavelli’s most unrelenting lesson: governing unscrupulously ensures political survival and staves off ruin. [6]

In the eyes of many of his colleagues and the American public, McConnell has managed healthcare reform in an unsavory manner. For instance, McConnell has crafted the bill behind closed doors, excluding other members from reviewing its content. Further, the bill is unpopular- only 17 percent of Americans support it- though he still intends to deliver it to President Trump for signing.   [7]

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Niccolo Machiavelli had a dark outlook on human nature, and the proper way to govern. (Biography.com).

Likely, McConnell has acted surreptitiously to hide the text of the bill. The Senate proposal phases out Obamacare Medicaid expansion, [8] allows states to opt-out of covering emergency services [9], and cuts taxes for wealthy Americans. [10] All these provisions would harm voters from both parties.

Nevertheless, McConnell continues his crusade against Obama era policies with an uncompromising zeal. During that time, he has followed the Machiavellian guide for power: harnessing the good fortune of the 2016 election, operating with strict discipline and guile, and preemptively striking foes to gain political advantage.

However, McConnell’s strongest Machiavellian trait is his willingness to sacrifice public utility for party gain. The best example is healthcare reform. By drafting the bill in secret and ignoring its dire implications for public welfare, McConnell has chosen to favor his agenda over caring for the nation’s most vulnerable citizens.

Perhaps most concerning is McConnell’s commitment to Machiavelli’s ultimate goal: prolonged domination at the expense of self-consciousness and constituency. Luckily, the United States has what renaissance Italy did not- institutions to check government officials who hold Machiavelli’s teachings as proper methods for governing.

Let’s hope those institutions continue to function as intended.

[1] Harper, J.L. (2004). American Machiavelli. New York. Cambridge University Press.

[2] Id.

[3] Kessler, G. (2012). When Did McConnell Say He Wanted to Make Obama a “One Term President”?. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/post/when-did-mcconnell-say-he-wanted-to-make-obama-a-one-term-president/2012/09/24/79fd5cd8-0696-11e2-afff-d6c7f20a83bf_blog.html?utm_term=.6aac0ac13022.

[4] Lerner, M. ed. (1950). The Prince and The Discourses: Niccolo Machiavelli. New York. The Modern Library.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Taylor, J. (2017). Just 17 Percent of Americans Approve of Republican Senate HealthCare Bill. NPR. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/2017/06/28/534612954/just-17-percent-of-americans-approve-of-republican-senate-health-care-bill.

[8] Newkirk, V. (2017). The Senate Puts Medicaid on the Chopping Block. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/06/ahca-senate-draft-medicaid-changes/531231/.

[9] Kaplan, T, Pear, R. (2017). Senate Health Care Bill includes Deep Cuts to Medicaid. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/22/us/politics/senate-health-care-bill.html?_r=0.

[10] Frank, R. (2017). The Rich Get a $250,000 Tax Cut Under GOP’s Health-Reform Bill. CNBC. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/28/the-rich-get-a-25000-tax-cut-under-the-gops-health-reform-bill.html.

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