Hardball and the Prince

Prince" by Machiavelli, and "Hardball: How Politics is Played - Told by One Who Knows the Game" by Chris Matthews. Specifically it will discuss how Matthews' book reflects the ideas of "The Prince." "The Prince" is probably one of the world's best-known early writings. Machiavelli wrote it in 1513 to gain support from the Medici family, who were the actual ruling "princes" of Italy in the 16th century. He also wrote it to urge them to battle the "barbarians" who continually invaded Italy during the same time, thus creating the "battleground of Europe." The book did not help him gain favor or a place in the Medici's influential political domain, because it did not appear in print until after his death. Like Machiavelli, author Chris Matthews is very familiar with the inner workings of our modern political system, and his book takes a sometimes tongue-in-cheek look at the inner workings of the American political system so the reader will get a greater understanding of what really goes on behind closed doors in Washington D.C.

From the beginning of the book, Matthews compares his work to "The Prince." He writes, "Let me define terms: hardball is clean, aggressive Machiavellian politics" (Matthews 11). From then on, it is easy to see that the ideas of "The Prince" and Matthews often blend seamlessly into one coherent and very detailed look at politics and political success. What is a little disconcerting about that analysis is how little power and politics have really changed through the ages.

Matthews heads his chapters with political statements on how politicians get to be powerful and successful in Washington. He writes, "In Washington, as in most places, building a career is the same as running a campaign. What distinguishes it from an election campaign is the size of the audience. Retail is the name of the game" (Matthews 43). This same basic principle is alive and well in Machiavelli's works as well. He states, "[P]rudence consists in knowing how to recognize the nature of disadvantages and how to choose the least bad as good" (Machiavelli 76). Thus, he believes most politicians can be warranted in committed reckless and aggressive acts if they chose the "least bad" alternative and it helps them preserve their power. That idea justifies the campaign practices that go on, the audience that listens to them, and the ultimate goal, to be elected. Recognizing the disadvantages that Machiavelli notes are crucial to running for political office, and getting something done in Washington after election, and there are numerous illustrations of that every day in Washington, as Senators and Representatives haggle over bills, wording, earmarks, and ideas, trying to solve disputes and choose the "least bad" alternatives toward their own gain.

Matthews first chapter illustrates his first Washington maxim, "It's not who you know, it's who you get to know" (Matthews 43), and this is the underlying theme to Machiavelli's work, as well. He wrote "The Prince" to help guide rulers of his time, but in a self-serving way, because he hoped to ingratiate himself with the rulers of the day, as well. Like the Washington politicians who get to know the people that can aid their careers the most, Machiavelli's work illustrates the self-serving side of politics, and illustrates that too has a long and illustrious history in the political arena.

Matthews shows the underbelly of politics by using actual examples that readers will know and understand. He uses well-known politicians and their methods to show what happens behind the scenes and in the backrooms of Washington, and he discusses some of the maxims of political life. Many of these blend extremely well with Machiavelli's thoughts and ideas. For example, Matthews writes, "Politicians use the same hard-nosed approach in dealing with one another: if you want to hurt someone, hit him where it matters to him the most, in his own backyard" (Matthews 45). Machiavelli uses much the same approach when he writes, "Well used are those cruelties (if it is permitted to speak well of evil) that are carried out in a single stroke, done out of necessity to protect oneself, and are not continued but are instead converted into the greatest possible benefits for the subjects" (Machiavelli 32). Matthews knows that politicians have to please the "subjects" back home, and so, they have to protect their own backyard using whatever means possible, just as long as it makes them look good back home. He gives a nod to Machiavelli's knowledge on the subject when he writes, "If the politician is 'present, in person, he can discover disorders in the bud and prevent them from developing'" (Matthews 47), a quote from "The Prince" that indicates how important the home front is in the political arena.

Matthews also shows the near contempt many politicians have for those they serve. He writes, "Political amateurs make the common mistake of treating all people the same. The great pol does not make this mistake. He keeps his eyes on the exact pressure point that will get the job done" (Matthews 51). Machiavelli says much the same thing when he writes, "Let a prince therefore act to conquer and to maintain the state; his methods will always be judged honourable and will be praised by all; for ordinary people are always deceived by appearances and by the outcome of a thing" (Machiavelli 60). Both of these statements show that politicians know they have to answer to the "ordinary people," but those ordinary people are easily led and deceived, and in reality, it is the most influential of those ordinary people that really count for anything in the political world.

Matthews shows that wily politicians use favors to push situations their way, but not their favors to others, rather, it is the favors of others that bring them loyalty and reward. He again compares this notion to Machiavelli's writing when he quotes the Italian writer, "Men are by nature as much bound by the benefits they confer as by those they receive'" (Matthews 63). Thus, when a politician lets someone do him a favor, he usually makes a lifelong convert. Matthews cites the story of Jimmy Carter and his election, as an example of this policy at work, and he shows that in Washington, many people may believe that favoritism is at the heart of the political problems, such as showing favoritism for lobbyists. What they do not know is that garnering favors from constituents and other politicians may be even more influential and powerful than any political favors handed out to special interests and such.

Matthews clearly understands the implications of comparing Washington to Machiavelli's work, and he uses it heavily throughout the book because it is such a stellar example of how politics really has not changed throughout the ages. Perhaps one of the most compelling chapters in the book is "Keep your enemies in front of you," which recounts the maxim that it is better to bring adversaries into your administration rather than giving them free rein outside it. This blends well with the idea of accepting favors to gain loyalty, and really shows how much of politics can be seen as a game like "hardball."

Matthews' book is a fascinating look into Washington politics, and it shows some of the things many people would never know or understand. Because of this, it is more than a little disturbing, as well. He graphically shows what many Americans have always feared, that Washington politics is an ever-changing game that really does not involve them in the least. It also shows how adept politicians have to be to become successful in Washington, and how much goes on that the people think they understand, but they really do not. It is not so much about smoke filled back rooms,…