One of the most insightful political quotes I’ve ever heard was from Ralph Waldo Emerson:
When you strike at a king, you must kill him.
This simple sentence is brilliant in its simplicity. If you plan to attack a very powerful figure, be sure you do enough harm to prevent retaliation, because it will be tremendous. And the wisdom of this has often escaped otherwise-intelligent people.
The first President Bush struck hard against Saddam Hussein in 1991, but didn’t complete the job. That unfinished business caused problems for 12 years, until his son completed the work.
Osama Bin Laden thought his attacks on 9/11 would drive the United States from meddling in the Middle East. That miscalculation led to the toppling of two of terrorism’s most fervent supporting nations, the renouncement by a third, and a huge semi-permanent U.S. military presence.
Dan Rather thought he had the goods on President Bush, and rushed to air with flagrantly-forged “documents.” The resulting backlash — not even directly from Bush — so absolutely devastated Rather and CBS’ credibility that it led to his premature retirement (he is leaving less than a year short of his 25th anniversary of taking the anchor desk) and CBS is still struggling to assert its relevance.
Eason Jordan had been spouting off unsubstantiated cheap shots against the US military for years. He finally went too far, presuming his invincibility and ability to toss off outrageous remarks without being called on them would last forever. Then he did it in front of a blogger and a couple Democratic members of Congress who have integrity and respect for the armed services, and it ended his career heading up CNN.
“When you strike at a king, you must kill him.” Such a simple notion, yet so important. And so tragically true.