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By Daniel Wirls, Special to the Sentinel 6/17/16


The Moses in politics offers a vision of salvation, a path to freedom; Machiavelli's prince practices the politics of the possible and the necessary. Each - the Moses and the Machiavelli - has its place in politics, and indeed some of the most famous leaders in world history embodied both (Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are obvious American examples). Indeed, with such luminaries in mind, we can see that Moses and Machiavelli represent the difficult combination at the core any presidency: the personal president, who speaks to us and for us, and the bureaucrat and commander in chief who runs the most complicated and powerful organization on the planet. The president who inspires and articulates a new direction for the nation, and the president who gets stuff done 24/7.

The problem has been that Clinton, for many, is all Machiavelli and no Moses, while Sanders seems to be all Moses and no Machiavelli. Neither is a fair characterization of their careers and campaigns, but the dynamics of their competition have reinforced these images, as Sanders' supporters attacked Clinton's long record of decisions, compromises, and machinations, while Clinton's viewed Sanders as unrealistic, an idealist who would be crushed by the office, if not in the general election. (I will not be discussing Donald Trump because every thinking American agrees that he is, just for starters, a megalomaniacal demagogue whose candidacy - let alone possible presidency - is a national disgrace.)

The contrast between Moses and Machiavelli - and the fact that we really expect a president to be both in practice - points to the following: We expect too much from our presidents. Every four years millions of Americans experience a selective amnesia that allows them to entertain, once again, the possibility that this or that candidate is the transformational one. Our system is designed to frustrate the very possibility of a transformative president. Perhaps it should not be, but it is. So instead of changing the political system to accommodate presidential power, we pour our energy into the presidential election hoping the results will bludgeon politics into at least a temporary surrender. That is a mistake; our quadrennial and collective triumph of hope over experience.

Vision is necessary, but so is effective leadership. The nature of the two candidates and the dynamics of the primary have made it seem like the two values are further apart than they should be. With the primaries over, and with Clinton the soon-to-be nominee, it's time for the Democratic Party to reunite these values, not just in the form of presidential and vice presidential candidates, but in its platform and in its candidates for Congress, because the president cannot do it alone.

The U.S. does not have a parliamentary system; so the best we can do is produce a united and responsible government under the control of one party - and then not be overly disappointed and disappear at the midterm election when the results are not as swift and pure as we might hope for. And supporters of Sanders and Clinton alike need to keep in mind the thing we always seem to forget (such as after 2008 and Obama's historic triumph): the "bad people" don't go away. Just as the political system is not revolutionized by the victory of one person for one office, your fellow Americans are not swept away on the winds of change.

Sanders supporters, if you cannot get enthusiastic about Clinton, realize that nothing will happen without a Democratic Congress and work for that with all the Machiavellian skill and cash you can bring to the fight (and that includes a vote for Hillary too). Clintonites, it ain't about Hillary anymore, it's about us, and Americans need a little bit of Moses to show them what is at stake, not just what to fear, but what to embrace.

Daniel Wirls is professor of politics at UC Santa Cruz, and author of several books on American politics.

Nancy Abbey2016-07-14T18:16:28Z
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