Machiavelli once asked whether it was better for a ruler to be loved or feared. He said that it would be best to be both, and that either one could work all by itself. But if you must choose, he said, fear is better, since love is fragile, while “fear of punishment works every time.”
Which is true enough. But notice that the “fear” Machiavelli is talking about is very different from the fear Obama is generating. Machiavelli is saying that a ruler must be strong enough to convince potential enemies that they will have to pay a very high price for challenging him. Obama isn’t acting like a strong leader, either here or abroad. In the past few days he’s been rudely insulted by the Iranians and the Russians (who compared him to Ahmadinejad), and he’s become an object of ridicule for previously friendly tv stars like Jon Stewart.
He doesn’t instill fear of punishment. It’s his policies and his weakness that frighten us. The man himself risks inspiring contempt. Which, as Machiavelli says, is the most dangerous thing that can befall any leader.