Nicolo Machiavelli, an expert in public policy and governing, was well aware of how dangerous it can be for leaders to surround themselves with yes men.
Machiavelli, whose tome "The Prince" has been reduced to the phrase "The ends justifies the means" in nearly all history classes, knew the ins and outs of how to lead a population and run a government. (That his seminal work in how to lead wisely and effectively has been reduced to such a sound bite is but one of many travesties of the American education system.)
He understood that leaders princes, kings, emperors, lords and so on had to be wise enough to distance themselves from people who would merely parrot the leaders' own opinions. These sycophants, he realized, would offer nothing new to discussions that need to be dynamic and thoughtful.
It's far better to surround yourself with smart people who aren't afraid to speak their minds, Machiavelli knew, and in his writing he stressed the importance of such a practice by leaders.
But that's not enough, he said. There also has to be decisiveness, intelligence and wisdom at the top, enough to know when one's advisors are wrong.
One should remember that "good counsels?are born of the wisdom of the prince, and not the wisdom of the prince from good counsels," he wrote. (Or, to look at it another way, too many chefs spoil the dish.)
If there were ever an example of not following the above suggestions in how to rule, the Bush Administration has to be it.
News reports indicate that the executive branch departments, ranging from the CIA to the EPA to the Treasury Department and everything in between, have been turned into little more than giant versions of the yes men Machiavelli was warning about.
Pressed for a need to invade Iraq, Bush got his buddies in the intelligence community to rewrite history a little bit OK, a lot regarding the alleged acquisition of nuclear material by that country, a report that had long since been discounted.
Needing more leeway for his corporate buddies to continue polluting and destroying the environment with reckless abandon, Bush got his puppets at the top of the EPA to roll back arsenic restrictions and pretend global warming and smog aren't problems at all. (Look towards downtown Atlanta from any of the suburbs on a bright, sunny summer day and tell me smog's nothing to worry about.)
Hoping to keep the wool pulled over the public's eyes regarding his misguided economic policy, Bush now has the Treasury Department jumping through hoops to support the fiscally irresponsible "tax cuts" that really amount to corporate welfare.
What's the big deal, you may ask? Well, by making the drafting of public policy so political, Bush is essentially putting this country on a hamster wheel.
The administration makes the policy decisions first, and then gets the other executive departments to twist evidence to support those decisions. But when those policies don't work (example: Bush's economic policy drives the country further into a recession), rather than looking to the policy experts in those departments to critically examine potential solutions, the administration will once again decide, and likely be just as wrong as before. That won't matter, though, because the executive branch departments will once again back them up with "evidence."
Repeat several dozen times with the many public policy decisions our government makes, and before long the country's going nowhere, fast. Or even worse, backwards.
With the administration's upper echelon consisting of people much smarter than our chief executive who are intent on keeping their straw man front and center, it isn't likely such a trend would be stopped. Flatterers all, they let the prez keep thinking he's a dynamic presence, stepping up at the right time to stop the spread of evil in the world, while they unload the country's riches into their personal accounts.
I don't what's worse: that he doesn't know what's going on, that he thinks he actually does, or that they're getting away with it all.
This is Justin Reedy's final column with the Daily. He is leaving to pursue other opportunities in the Seattle area.