It is more about keeping ahead of your competitors, always staying ahead of the game, and playing all the positions adroitly. It is all about power and prestige, and it is fairly amazing that anything constructive gets accomplished when there is so much political posing going on. In that, it is quite difficult to think positively of politics and politicians after reading this book, but that was probably one of Matthews objectives when he wrote the book. Most Americans want to believe that the politicians they elect have their interests at heart, and there may be some that actually do. They, however, seem to be in the minority, and according to this book, they probably will not be very successful, anyway.
Matthews notes that Machiavelli thinks the best leader is part lion and part fox (Matthews 152), and that is another apt analogy for todays politicians – it is evident in the current presidential race. Both candidates are brave, fearless individuals, like the lion, in their quest for the White House, but they are canny and even a little sneaky, too, like the fox, calculating what they must do to ensure they end up on top. You have to be brave and sneaky to make it in Washington, and Matthews, through this book, shows what that is the case.
The book also shows that sometimes power can corrupt, sometimes it can leave at a moments notice, and that it is necessary for political success in Washington.
While the cynical reader would not find many new ideas in this book (such as “the press is the enemy”), it is still disappointing to see that many things the reader may have thought about Washington are actually true. It is really nothing more than a game, and all the players have one main goal, to make it to the big leagues. It would be much more appealing to believe that the politicians really did have the good of the people at heart, but even Machiavelli knew that was not the case, and after reading this book, the American people need to face that fact, too.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince. Translated by Peter Bondanella, ed. Peter Bondanella. Oxford: Oxford University, 1998.
Matthews, Chris. Hardball: How Politics is.