Feature

How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians by Quintus Tullius Cicero

Cicero's advice is as cynical as anything that might be offered by aides to our current presidential candidates.

(Princeton Univ. Press, $10)

Quintus Tullius Cicero was the Bobby Kennedy of his era, said Peter Stothard in The Wall Street Journal. Quintus’ brother Marcus was a step ahead of him in the politics of ancient Rome and had a chance, even though an outsider, to win election as consul in 64 B.C. Think of Quintus as “the ruthless soldier of the family” and you won’t be surprised that his written advice to his more renowned sibling reads as pragmatically cynical as anything that might be spoken behind closed doors by aides to our current presidential hopefuls. “A candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets,” Quintus wrote in his well-known letter, which benefits greatly from Philip Freeman’s fresh translation. And don’t get Quintus started on the gullibility of the masses.

Today’s candidates hew so closely to the Cicero campaign’s playbook that every one of them “must have classics scholars on staff,” said David Weigel in Slate.com. Surely Barack Obama has studied the passage about “those you have inspired with hope”—and particularly how to maintain their allegiance even after they’ve been let down. Newt Gingrich wouldn’t still be in the Republican race at all if he hadn’t heeded the younger Cicero’s advice to “pay special attention” to businessmen, since a casino magnate’s wealth has proved his lifeline. When Mitt Romney mentions Solyndra on the stump to suggest an untoward link between Obama and the failed solar-energy firm, he’s following this tip: “You don’t have to actually bring your opponents to trial on corruption charges” to hurt them.

Let’s not pretend that any of this is shocking, said John Kass in the Chicago Tribune. It’s almost comforting, in fact, to discover that voters’ buttons haven’t really changed in 2,000 years and that politics has always attracted people pragmatic enough to push them. “Only extremely realistic people are able to sell political fantasies,” after all. Marcus Cicero didn’t just win in a landslide, it must be noted. He became one of the most revered of all Rome’s ancient leaders.

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