Back on Oct. 12, 1996, the White House issued a proclamation that could
never be issued again by this administration without providing a gaggle of
new material for Jay Leno and David Letterman monologues.
That was “National Character Counts Week.” Accordingly, President
Clinton advised the nation on how to observe this solemn occasion.
“During this special week, we recognize that character is not a quality
we are born with; we must learn it,” he explained. “This means we must
ensure that it is taught, clearly and thoughtfully, to our youth.
Individual character involves honoring and embracing certain core values:
honesty, respect, responsibility, hard work, fairness, caring, civic virtue
and citizenship. Americans must do everything possible to create a society
in which these virtues are not only taught but also acted out in daily life
so that our young people can witness firsthand their value and learn right
Clinton went on to explain how his administration has made this a “top
priority” and, as evidence, cited the push for the federal education
bureaucracy’s power grab known as “Goals 2000.” Pretty funny, huh?
Ever wonder where Bill Clinton learned right from wrong? His textbook
may well have been Machiavelli’s “The Prince.” It’s a classic work worth
reviewing in light of recent events in and around the White House.
“Every one admits how praiseworthy it is in a prince to keep faith, and
to live with integrity and not with craft,” Machiavelli writes.
“Nevertheless our experience has been that those princes who have done
great things have held good faith of little account, and have known how to
circumvent the intellect of men by craft, and in the end have overcome
those who have relied on their word.”
The author goes on to explain that an effective leader must combine the
terror of a lion with the cunning of a fox. And it is characteristic of the
slyness (some call it slickness) that Clinton has mastered so well.
“But it is necessary to know well how to disguise this characteristic,
and to be a great pretender and dissembler; and men are so simple, and so
subject to present necessities, that he who seeks to deceive will always
find someone who will allow himself to be deceived,” explains Machiavelli.
There are times when it seems Machiavelli, who wrote in the early 16th
century, knew Bill Clinton personally, intimately. For instance, he writes,
“… for there never was a man who had greater power in asserting, or who
with greater oaths would affirm a thing, yet would observe it less;
nevertheless his deceits always succeeded according to his wishes, because
he well understood this side of mankind.”
There was no need, Machiavelli wrote, for a prince to be merciful,
faithful, humane, religious and upright, but it was necessary for him to
“appear” to have such qualities. Sound familiar? And how about this
“Therefore it is necessary for him to have a mind ready to turn itself
accordingly as the winds and variations of fortunes force it….” Do you
know any leaders like that?
But here’s some real sage advice from Machiavelli to the president and
first lady, who lately have been fretting about dark conspiracies against
them: “For this reason I consider that a prince ought to reckon
conspiracies of little account when his people hold him in esteem; but when
it is hostile to him, and bears hatred towards him, he ought to fear
everything and everybody.”
Back on Oct. 12, 1996, President Clinton said, “we all contribute
regularly to our American community and our national purpose — our sense
of who we are as a people. In the end, the character of our nation is
determined by the character of our citizens.”
The character of our nation is also determined, in part, by the
character of our highest officials. If we’re not careful, President
Clinton’s legacy may well be how greatly he reshaped the national character
in his own “princely” image.