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Spondeo, spondeo (Promises, promises) Print E-mail

chuck-bennettby Chuck Bennett, Director of Governmental Affairs

Political campaigns aren’t everyone’s cup of tea.

About the second time you read about someone’s mother being employed or whether this candidate or that has inflated their record, patience with the whole process shrinks thin.

This year’s legislative election season is no better or worse than most. Promises that can’t be kept. Issues having nothing to do with state government. Charges and counter charges manufactured by campaign consultants with only slight relationships to reality. Obscene amounts of money spent to get out messages that would fit on a postage stamp, not a flashy flier.

Who cares more about kids? Who cares more about seniors? Who cares? The truth is that not one candidate running for office this year is running against schools or good education. One party’s candidates promise more money than another’s – and neither is taking on the bottom-line issues of tax increases or substantive reform. You don’t win elections making promises to provide services and then outlining a way to pay for them. It doesn’t work that way. 

It must have been better in the “good old days.” Wrong. 

Let’s look at the ultimate good old days – republican Rome. Don’t be surprised to find out that Roman candidates, good-government types like Marcus Cicero, who so profoundly affected the Founding Fathers, ran for office, spent money, made promises and had consultants. Cicero had his younger brother, Quintus. 

Cicero was facing his first campaign for consul of Rome. Apparently the campaign was faltering and like any good brother Quintus thought some advice might help. It apparently did – Cicero won and became one of the great voices for republican Rome. 

Here’s some of Quintus advice. See if you think it sounds familiar:

  • “Although natural ability is a big advantage, in a campaign of only a few months, duplicity can beat natural ability.”

  • “It is important that you always appear in public with attendants. And you will gain particular fame and honor if your attendants are those who have been defended by you in court and have been acquitted.” (Cicero was a sort-of defense lawyer.)

  • “Enough has been said concerning making friends. Now we must discuss the other side of a political campaign: how to win the support of the common people. Here you need flattery, constant attention, politeness, a good reputation, prominence in public life, and the knowledge of every man’s name.”

  • “You really need the art of flattery which, although evil and blameworthy in all other aspects of life, is essential in a campaign.”

  • “Politeness is among the services you should offer to the common people. Ensure that they have easy access to you day and night.”

  • “Voters want to hear promises when they ask things of a candidate and they want to hear extensive and believable promises. It is somewhat tricky, and more appropriate to the demands of the campaign than to your own character to promise what you cannot accomplish. But it is the strategy of a good campaigner if you make a promise, its accomplishment is never definite.”

  • “Many more seek a promise than seek the accomplishment of one.”

  • “In Rome you must suffer much treachery, deceit, all kinds of vices, the arrogance of many, scorn, evil, pride, hatred and harassment. Only one man can adapt to such a variety of characters and expressions – you.”

Politics tunc quod politics iam.

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This page was last updated on Wednesday, September 27, 2006 .