The Political Disciplinarian
In his best-known work, The Prince, the political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli famously poses the question whether it is better for a leader to be feared or loved.
Like a politician who doesn't want to be pinned down, he first opines: "One should wish to be both." Later in the same paragraph he gets off the fence, writing, "because it is difficult to unite [being feared and being loved] in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved." Generations of tyrants have found justification in the pages of The Prince by ignoring the more subtle arguments Machiavelli makes later in the same chapter.
The modern, homespun metaphor of the "carrot and the stick" is more apt for leaders because it implies that the leader use both in the right balance and combination. The first, obvious question is: How much of each? The not-so-obvious pitfall, the trap many leaders unwittingly fall into is that they are inconsistent in their application of either punishment or reward. Inconsistency is, perhaps, an even greater sin than being too heavy-handed or too lenient. Most people would prefer to follow someone who hands out rewards and punishments in a predictable fashion.
There is another aspect of the carrot-and-stick algorithm, and that is: Where does the leader wield the stick? Some members of the president's party are wavering in their support of Obama's health-care reform plans. It is highly likely that any offer of a carrot or threat of a stick among his own party members is going to take place out of the public view. Everyone gets to save face when the trip to the proverbial woodshed is a private affair. And if someone is disciplined, word will get out to those politicians who need a little preemptive warning about staying in line.
When it comes to analyzing the president as political disciplinarian, one thing seems clear: There will be at least as much political horse-trading going on out of the public view as takes place in open forum. And while we'll be able to judge the success of this particular program in not too many months, the president's long-term effectiveness with the carrot and stick won't be entirely clear until historians are poring over the record years from now. As with most relationships between leader and led, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
Posted by: dottydo | August 18, 2009 7:49 PM
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