Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer

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(Danville, California)

“Keep your friends close and your enemies closer!” It was a saying made popular by the Michael Corleone character in “The Godfather” movies, but it dates back much further. The line is originally attributed to Sun-tzu, a Chinese general and military strategist in 400 B.C.

The whole concept was to keep your enemies close so that you could keep an eye on them and prevent them from attacking you.

Fast forward to 2008, and it appears this may be part of Barack Obama’s political strategy. He has now appointed former rivals Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and Bill Richardson to top posts inside his administration. All certainly come with long resumes, so that could help Obama, too. Abraham Lincoln, whom Obama has studied intently, did a similar thing. Lincoln appointed rivals and foes to posts in his cabinet.

What this does in the short term, is to neutralize the intraparty opposition. For now, it would be hard for Biden, Clinton or Richardson to bolt and to challenge Obama for the nomination in 2012 should his presidency go sour.

History is full of examples when opposition from within his own party has torpedoed a President. Ronald Reagan challenged Gerald Ford for the nomination in 1976 and nearly won. Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter’s renomination in 1980 and so criticized Carter that it helped lead to Carter's loss. Pat Robertson’s challenge to George H.W. Bush in 1992 forced the elder Bush to spend too much time and money on an intraparty fight. It left him wounded and relatively easy for Bill Clinton to beat in November.

There are other examples, too; but for the sake of discussion, modern political history is all one has to look at. Appointing former and, perhaps, future rivals helps Obama in two ways. First, if his administration falters in the first two years, it would be hard for any of these three to challenge him because they would be blamed also as “part of the team.” Any serious challenger to Obama in 2012 would have to step out by 2010 to raise money and to organize his or her campaign. Second, if Obama's first term goes well, it forces potential challengers to really gear up their resumes for a run in 2016. That almost forces undying loyalty to Obama right now. To quote “The Godfather” again, Obama has “made them an offer they can’t refuse.”

Biden, who would be 74 in 2016, probably would be out of the picture; but Clinton and Richardson would be very much in the mix.

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