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#432513 - 03/09/12 09:41 AM The Ancient Art Of Fooling Voters
Marty Offline

Ok, it's not about Belize, but the concepts ring true....

If a big brother is aiming for the highest electoral office in the land, a little brother may often like to be useful. A Robert Kennedy can be a help, a Roger Clinton a headache. Billy Carter brings beer, but Jeb Bush brings Florida. Two thousand years ago, Quintus Tullius Cicero gave his elder brother, Marcus, an unusually frank guide to winning votes—and, on the principle that democracy's brutal essentials have changed little over the centuries, Princeton University Press has now brought out "How to Win an Election," a new Latin-and-English edition of Quintus's guide for the season of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

In 64 B.C., the Cicero brothers were both political outsiders. Marcus would eventually become one of the most celebrated Romans of them all. But just as no Catholic had become president before John Kennedy, the Ciceros' campaign had to surmount the obstacle that no one from their family had yet served as consul, one of the two men who, for a year, directed Rome's superpower republic.

As a first-time candidate for the consulship, Marcus Cicero was a "new man" from a small southern town—and the successful campaign manager, then as now, had to ensure that the candidate never forgot it. "Every day, as you go down to the Forum," wrote Quintus in his second paragraph, "you should say to yourself: 'I am an outsider. I want to be a consul. This is Rome.' " Focus, focus, focus. This mantra was the equivalent of "it's the economy, stupid" for an age when economics was not quite the issue it would become.

Both men were on the Cursus Honorum, the greasy Roman pole that led to the consulship through junior magistracies. To become consul was the end of the course and brought a status that stayed with one's family forever. If Marcus were to succeed, Quintus might well succeed eventually too. But first Marcus had to win. Though a devastating wordsmith, lawyer and philosopher, Marcus was not a natural schmoozer, not a "good old boy," not even a general. Quintus was the ruthless soldier of the family and throughout "How to Win an Election" runs the theme that Marcus's killer rhetoric, while a valuable tool, would not alone be sufficient.

Except in times of dictatorship or emergency, Romans chose their leaders through an electoral college. All adult male citizens had the right to vote in various groups, defined by tribe and class, and the victor was the first candidate to gain a college majority. A successful candidate, wrote Quintus, had to map the electorate, the business groups, the regional interests, the city poor and the young, pandering to every one. He had to offer hope even if he knew he could not make those hopes happen.

The system favored the wealthy and those of the lower classes who lived in Rome itself. So a candidate should not leave town, not take a day off and never be seen without key backers in tow. He had to flatter, to remember voters' names, to remain unfailingly confident, to look as well as feel like a winner, to remind everyone what benefits a Ciceronian victory would bring—and what evils would otherwise flow. A good sexual smear would always go a long way—and it was particularly essential to have family support, since most rumors about one's own failings would come from close to home.

Quintus's election book is frank about the gullibility of the masses and firm in its requirement that they be deceived in their own best interests. Rome was a "cesspool of humanity," and its would-be leaders could be excused of behavior to match. An assumed personality need not be maintained for long. But Marcus, his brother advised, must make himself seem to be a man of the people while reassuring the wealthy that the "new man" knows his place. There has been much modern argument about how democratic Rome really was. "How to Win an Election" shows that a campaigner's concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough.

Electoral corruption was endemic at Rome. Like voters in all democracies, the Romans were both inured to it and moved, from time to time, to clean house. The Cicero brothers were campaigning in one of Rome's years of attempted reform. Their chief opponent, a corrupt aristocrat called Lucius Sergius Catilina, had bribed on a sufficiently massive scale to spur the senate to call for tighter rules. A tribune of the plebs vetoed the plan, as was his right under Rome's separation of powers. Cicero was then able to savage Catiline with his famed rhetorical abuse. A problem became an opportunity, a process that always brings politicians pleasure.

The form of Quintus's tutorial is that of a letter for later literary publication, probably a draft text that Quintus had given to his brother for improvement. The writer says, with disingenuous humility, that he is not claiming to know more than Marcus himself, merely to be the man with the time to set out problems simply. Some scholars have thought the letter instead to be a literary exercise by an unknown student 100 years later. But the style of the prose, mostly dry and logical, just occasionally intimate, is one of many arguments for its being genuine. Philip Freeman's translation here is bright and clear and makes the work more attractive at times than it is in Latin.

The campaign of 64 B.C. was a success. The letter did not leak, as far as we know. The voters never knew how focused the Ciceronian machine was and how frank Quintus had been about their gullibility. Catiline turned out not to be as dangerous an electoral opponent as a physical one; Cicero, once he had become senior consul, had to put down Catiline's coup attempt through barely legal executions that cost him heavily in later years. While Quintus Tullius Cicero never made it to the top, one "new man" had. And no one could ever take that away.

Mr. Stothard is the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, past editor of the Times of London and author of "Spartacus Road: A Journey Through Ancient Italy."


#432561 - 03/09/12 04:02 PM Re: The Ancient Art Of Fooling Voters [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

  1. The problem with political jokes is they get elected. — Henry Cate, VII

  2. We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office. — Aesop

  3. If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in these acceptance speeches there wouldn't be any inducement to go to heaven. — Will Rogers

  4. Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber. — Plato

  5. Politicians are the same all over. They promise to build a bridge even where there is no river. — Nikita Khrushchev

  6. When I was a boy I was told that anybody could become President. I'm beginning to believe it. — Clarence Darrow

  7. Why pay money to have your family tree traced? Go into politics and your opponents will do it for you. — Author Unknown

  8. Politicians are people who, when they see light at the end of the tunnel, go out and buy some more tunnel. — John Quinton

  9. Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other. — Oscar Ameringer

  10. I offer my opponents a bargain: If they will stop telling lies about us, I will stop telling the truth about them. — Adlai Stevenson, campaign speech, 1952

  11. A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country. — Texas Guinan

  12. Any American who is prepared to run for president should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so. — Gore Vidal

  13. I have come to the conclusion that politics is too serious a matter to be left to the politicians. — Charles de Gaulle

  14. Politics is supposed to be the second-oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first. — Ronald Reagan

  15. Instead of giving a politician the keys to the city , it might be better to change the locks. — Doug Larson

  16. Don't vote, it only encourages them. — Author Unknown

  17. There ought to be one day - just one - when there is open season on senators. — Will Rogers


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