When reports surfaced last month
showing that many Americans wrongly believe President Obama is a Muslim, many analysts wondered if Obama might have avoided this by simply reminding people about his Christian faith.
After all, as president, Bill Clinton -- a public relations master -- was frequently photographed carrying a Bible as he entered, or departed, a church, yet Obama had infrequently attended church since taking office.
This advice to Obama, of course, was anything but new. As Italian political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli wrote nearly 500 years ago, a prince should
appear to him who sees and hears him altogether merciful, faithful, humane, upright, and religious. There is nothing more necessary to appear to have than this last quality.
To be sure, there is something to be said for keeping spiritual matters personal (Ronald Reagan, for example, rarely attended church services). And one could certainly applaud Obama for not acting Machiavellian
(Machiavelli doesn't just advise a prince to advertise his faith, but goes a step further, saying: "it is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear
to have them").
But perception matters in politics, and while keeping spiritual matters private may be noble, it is interesting to consider that one of Obama's main political problems might stem from ignoring advice dispensed so long ago -- in what is arguably the most famous treatise on politics.
Interestingly, it seems Obama has finally decided to heed this advice. This past Sunday, for the sixth time since taking office, he attended church
in Washington. He has also started talking more about his faith, most recently saying he was "Christian by choice