Every cliche has a certain amount of truth in it. And one of the best political cliches comes from Machiavelli: He wrote in The Prince, "it is best to be both feared and loved; however, if one cannot be both it is better to be feared than loved."
Barack Obama is one of most beloved American president-elects to come along in some time. There is even a share of good will and hope for success coming from Republicans. It is an affection that stretches across the world -- from the Africa of his father's birth to the euphoric Europeans and likely parts of the Middle East.
A problem exists though that it is unclear if anyone in his party truly fears him. And this week showed why it's necessary for Obama to show his ability to be an SOB pretty soon -- or his own party may well be responsible for causing his great plans to fall around him. In short, Obama might want to start channeling his inner Dick -- as in "Cheney," someone who didn't give a damn whether people loved (or even liked) him. It was enough that he was feared -- or even hated -- just as long as he got his goals accomplished.
That's a lesson Obama might want to absorb, because things are starting to get a bit dicey. After a month of near-universal praise for presenting mature, "adult" nominees for his Cabinet, the last couple of weeks produced some warning signs that Obama's inner circle might want to address.
1) Obama did Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid a favor by supporting his decision not to seat any Illinois Senate appointee of Gov. Blagojevich. Problem is -- the Senate majority leader is supposed to be helping the president (or president-elect). Worse, Harry Reid is quite possibly one of the worst poker-playing politician in the world. (Ironic, given that he represents a state in which sits Las Vegas).
Reid was completely outsmarted by Blagojevich -- and the Democrats ended up looking like they want to keep an honorable, qualified black man out of their elite country club. When he should be focusing on other things, Obama was forced to inject himself into the saga Wednesday and get the Senate moving toward accepting Burris.
2) Sen. Dianne Feinstein threw a snit-fit over Obama's selection of Leon Panetta as CIA director. As Rich Galen points out, Feinstein wasn't upset over Panetta's qualifications or experience with intelligence matters:
So, Feinstein helps provide the media with headlines showing a fellow Democrat's ire with Obama choosing Panetta. She's upset because the new president didn't show proper respect to her position. Oh, please! (In fairness to Feinstein, she is one of the few outspoken Democrats trying to get Reid out of the mess he's created for himself on the Roland Burris matter).The issue with Panetta is that Obama announced the nomination without taking the time to inform the incoming Chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) that this was about to happen.
3) As we've discussed before, Joe Biden -- Obama's own running mate -- essentially tosses his president-elect under the bus, publicly declaring that indeed Obama committed a "mistake" in not showing Feinstein appropriate deference to the Senate.
This sort of behavior is unacceptable for a new president. While the Burris matter is essentially pure Senate business, Obama has to realize how much it is undermining the Democratic Senate majority -- even before any legislation has passed.
Similarly, while it may have been a breach in etiquette not to let Feinstein know about Panetta ahead of time, this sort of pique -- from both her and Biden is simply unacceptable. If Obama doesn't start throwing some elbows and kicking some behinds in his own party, reminding people that he scored the biggest presidential majority for a Democrat since Johnson -- he will be seen as weak.
And where weakness is sensed, the permanent wolves of Washington will strike.
Obama can't underestimate the ability for Congress -- even when run by his own party -- to instill wounds from which it is difficult to recover. Don't take my word for it: Perhaps Obama might have thought to ask Bill Clinton at Wednesday's "President's Luncheon" how long it took Clinton to recover from what Sam Nunn did to him on the gays-in-the-military issue mere weeks into Clinton's first term.
Not only did Nunn win, he effectively exposed Clinton as someone ill-prepared to play the Washington game.
Obama must demonstrate a harder edge, whether he's dealing with opponents or allies who wander off the reservation -- perhaps even deliver a a healthy "STFU" to Biden at some point (hey, Cheney happily shared how much better he felt after he delivered similar words to Sen. Patrick Leahy). If he doesn't, those aforementioned permanent wolves will be ready to pounce at their earliest opportunity.
After all, there's another cliche that has some merit to it -- "Nice guys finish last."
Robert A. George is a New York writer. A former aide to House Speaker Newt Gingrich, he blogs at Ragged Thots and dabbles in stand-up comedy.