A Modern Leader

American Flag via Wikimedia Commons
American Flag via Wikimedia Commons

With only weeks until the 2014 elections, voters are constantly being asked the question: Who are you voting for? Although this answer provides important polling statistics, it gives little to no information about why they are voting for that particular person. What sets this candidate apart from the rest? What qualities make them a good leader and a good politician? These questions were answered centuries ago by Machiavelli in The Prince and are now resurfacing today in a new way.

In recent elections, candidates have increased their negative add output while simultaneously putting themselves in a positive light. However, according to a NY Times article published this week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has not seen the need to use these new, cut throat tactics. The big question here is why? One could say that he is ethically opposed to this, but an even more obvious reason is that he simply does not need to do this. Through his time as Governor, Cuomo has proven to New York and the country that he is an effective politician and leader who can execute policy changes and who truly cares about the lives of New Yorkers. Although he has had his low points in his career and is not a favorite of everyone, he clearly has been doing something right.

Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito via Wikimedia Commons

In our Political Science class at the University of Michigan, we recently read the writings of Machiavelli’s The Prince and discussed at length the attributes that make up a good leader in Machiavelli’s opinion and in our own opinions. Machiavelli’s qualities of a good prince seem a bit cynical to us, however some of his overarching principles can be applied to our own politicians. According to Machiavelli, a prince should always be prepared for war, have resources and support, achieve their goal no matter the cost, and be noble. All of these qualities in Machiavelli’s opinion make a good leader, but some times it is impossible to possess all of them at once. As a result, Machiavelli states that the best prince will appear to have all of these positive qualities even though he may not actually have them. This facade makes for a strong and cunning Machiavellian prince.

These Machiavellian principles may seem a bit outdated, yet we can see the same themes present in politics in the United States. Constant media attention and voter criticism causes politicians to put on a similar facade. This leads to confused voters and media reporters. As a result, they cannot differentiate between true and false information, as seen in this recent NY Times article. We as voters need to be able to sift through all of this information and form our own opinions about who we think would be a good politician. In our discussion section, we came to the conclusion that a good leader should be influential, aware of their weaknesses, organized, selfless, passionate, and confident. One leader cannot have all of these qualities, but instead they will have a unique combination of them.

Andrew Cuomo by Pat Arnow via Wikipedia Commons
Andrew Cuomo by Pat Arnow via Wikimedia Commons

One politician in particular has a very well balanced combination of these attributes. Governor Andrew Cuomo has been an active figure in New York politics for quite some time, following a legacy left by his father years before. Governor Cuomo has effectively shaped and formed his own image despite following in his father’s footsteps and is now a well distinguished and respected politician. By reflecting on his past political and personal failures and achievements, Governor Cuomo has learned from his mistakes and has now gotten a strong grasp on how to function in today’s political sphere. This coming reelection has proven that Governor Cuomo knows how to play this game in a way that goes against the grain and contrasts Machiavelli’s strategies. By organizing his campaign and his new ideas, Governor Cuomo has made his new policies fool proof simply by not specifying any details. Using his own reputation as his strongest weapon is a strategy that many politicians are too afraid to rely on, but Governor Cuomo clearly can use this to his advantage. From supporting gay marriage in New York to pushing for stricter gun regulations, Governor Cuomo has proven that he can get things done in New York in an organized, confident, and selfless manner. Governor Cuomo is not a favorite to everyone but he uses the support he has to his advantage. Unlike Machiavelli’s ideal Prince, Governor Cuomo does not need to use cutthroat tactics and put on a facade to succeed as a leader. By simply being himself and doing what is best for New York, Governor Cuomo is using a new approach to leadership that serves our current society well.


3 thoughts on “A Modern Leader

  1. Great post! I think you did a perfect job of balancing out the learning material from class and the current event you mentioned. To answer your initial questions about what people consider while voting, I honestly don’t think it is too much about the candidate and his/her history. Many voters lead very busy lives, so they do not have time to research their choices. Therefore, they vote solely based on party.

    I’ve talked to people and they’ll admit that they’ll make their decisions based on what letter is next to the candidate’s name. In most cases, it’s “R” or “D.” So even if Cuomo is being himself and is doing what is right for New York, that won’t guarantee his political success. Instead, all he needs to do is propose ideas that appeal to the majority of New York’s population (In this case it is the Democrats). He doesn’t necessarily have to be “organized, selfless, passionate, and confident” once he is in office.

    That is just how I have seen things unfold sometimes with our politicians. I am not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I just think that’s how it has been set-up with our system. Just my thoughts though. Your points are still very valid, great work!


  2. Well said. I like the way you connected Machiavelli to a modern political figure. I do have some questions. Although i do not know much about Andrew Cuomo i wonder whether him looking like he isn’t being cut throat is actually Machiavellian of him. I know it sounds cynical, but is it possible that him looking like he is a straight shooter just mean is the ultimate Machiavellian in that he is so good at hiding his shortcoming. on a different note, i believe that, while the traits described by Machiavelli are not exemplified by Andrew Cuomo, they can still be extremely effective. Moreover, i don’t think there is one set of things a leader or politician should do to make him successful. I think it depends so much on the leader, the followers, and the situation that they are in. If you took Chris Murphy (A successful Connecticut attorney) and put him in Mississippi would the same traits that made him successful in Connecticut be effective in Mississippi? I don’t think so. This supports my theory that it is impossible to have a list of traits that will make a leader sucessful


  3. I also don’t think voters (generally) are enough of experts to know how great Andrew Cuomo’s policies are. He has had a lot of luck and has been in the right time in the right place, in my opinion. Not only do voters vote based on whether or not someone is a democrat or republican, as a previous commenter said, but there are also many single-issue voters. This means that if, for example, the most important issue to me is someone who passes legislation on universal health care, then I may vote for a candidate based on that one issue. Or if I want gay marriage to pass, I would probably vote for the candidate who supports it over a different candidate who may share more similarities with me politically. So, though you may be right about Cuomo, I think that the demographic of New York generally votes democratic, and thus, regardless of the single-issues the people support, they overarchingly support Cuomo just by virtue of their political preferences, not necessarily because of knowledge of Cuomo’s history or competence.


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