Sunday, May 20, 2012

Cicero’s Obamney

" What we have, in what passes for US democracy in 2012, is a kabuki play that Cicero put to papyrus 1948 years earlier. All historical empires and war aggressors have used propaganda to claim their looting and police states were necessary and helpful to the 99%. Instead, a sorrowful history tells us they were almost always for the sole benefit of the 1%."

His excellent hillbillisimo, James Carville, in a piece for the May/June Foreign Affairs, “Campaign Tips From Cicero: The Art of Politics, From the Tiber to the Potomac,” reprises the advice given by Quintus, the younger brother of Marcus Tullius Cicero, when Marcus was contemplating a run for the chief elected office of the Roman Republic in 64 CE.

Quintus Tullius Cicero’s Commentariolum Petitionis, or "Little Handbook on Electioneering," is good advice on winning elections. It can be, and is, summed up in quintessential Carvelese as “sucking up and spitting down.” The younger brother, observes Carville, “urges his brother to go negative early, even bringing up the character issue (it must be easier to do when your opponent is a murderer, child molester, and ‘friend of actors’). He then moves brilliantly back to base development, urges his brother to pander, and anticipates Napoleon’s advice that a leader should be ‘a dealer in hope.’ … He suggests sticking to generalities during the campaign, telling the wealthy you are for stability and peace while assuring the common man that you are always on his side. Oh, and accusing your opponents of ‘crimes, sex scandals, and corruption.’”

The irony of this has surely not been lost on Carville, but his Foreign Affairs dissection is as tame and pandering as Cicero’s candidacy was. Carville first came to national attention when he emerged from the smoke-filled rooms in Little Rock to steer Bill Clinton’s campaign into the Oval Office, rendering Washington’s anointed designee, George H.W. Bush, a one-term president, with jaw agape. He never saw “it's the economy, stupid” coming.

Carville’s campaign for Clinton was textbook Cicero: “Impressing the voters at large... is done by knowing who people are, being personable and generous, promoting yourself, being available, and never giving up.... Nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.”

“People like to hear that you are good to your friends at events such as banquets, so make sure that you and your allies celebrate these frequently for the leaders of each tribe. Another way to show you are generous is to be available day and night to those who need you. Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul.”

Clinton’s walk over Bush Sr. gave impetus to Karl Rove, who must have researched Carville’s library check-outs. The Bush v. Gore campaign in 2000 bore Cicero’s fingerprints. “You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office. If you use flattery to corrupt a man there is no excuse for it, but if you apply ingratiation as a way to make political friends, it is acceptable. For a candidate must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary.”

“If you break a promise, the outcome is uncertain and the number of people affected is small. But if you refuse to make a promise, the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters.”

Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified, yes, but full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.”

When Obama took the stage in 2007, he also leaned heavily on the younger Cicero’s advice: “The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you. On the other hand, you should not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. Stick to vague generalities. Tell the Senate you will maintain its traditional power and privileges. Let the business community and wealthy citizens know that you are for stability and peace. Assure the common people that you have always been on their side, both in your speeches and in your defense of their interests...”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people…. As for those who you have inspired with hope — a zealous and devoted group — you must make them to believe that you will always be there to help them. Let them know that you are grateful for their loyalty and that you are keenly aware of and appreciate what each of them is doing for you.”

Obama’s pledges to his base were breathtaking. According to a Brookings Institution piece in the same issue of Foreign Affairs, they were to “refurbish the United States’ image abroad, especially in the Muslim world; end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; offer an outstretched hand to Iran; “reset” relations with Russia as a step toward ridding the world of nuclear weapons; elicit Chinese cooperation on regional and global issues; and make peace in the Middle East.”

That he couldn’t make good on all of these is not surprising. That he did not accomplish a single one of them (although he made some small progress with Iraq and China) and instead went 180-degrees in the opposite direction explains why he is losing with the voters in the current campaign. With Obama’s string of broken promises, the outcome is firming up and the number of people affected is large. Estimates for Obama’s criminal war casualties run into the tens or hundreds of thousands. Gaza is still smoldering. The Fukushima cover-up casualties may yet run to the millions.

What we have, in what passes for US democracy in 2012, is a kabuki play that Cicero put to papyrus 1948 years earlier. All historical empires and war aggressors have used propaganda to claim their looting and police states were necessary and helpful to the 99%. Instead, a sorrowful history tells us they were almost always for the sole benefit of the 1%. Obama’s moves in the financial crisis were unquestionably tilted towards the 1%, threadbare propaganda about “Main Street” notwithstanding.

Romney’s script is straight from Cicero’s advice about going negative early and pandering to your wealthy but anxious base. The candidate “must be a chameleon, adapting to each person he meets, changing his expression and speech as necessary,” Cicero wrote. This is easier now that six mega-media corporations control 90% of US “reporting.” And that is the principal reason that Romney, a morality-free pious hypocrite, now leads Obama, the slick-back toadie, in the national polls.

Obama, in 2008 the outsider, in 2012 must defend a governing record that looks like George W. Bush on steroids:

  • Suppression of news of serious war-crimes, including assassination of war correspondents, by prosecution of whistle-blowers like Bradley Manning and Julian Assange
  • Corruption of the Justice Department, NSA, FBI and CIA to cover an ongoing criminal enterprise involving some $5 trillion in long-term graft from no-bid contracts going to the 1% — $50,000 per average US family, being extracted in taxes, inflation, bank defaults, student loans and diminished public services
  • Conspiring with local police and mayors to quash and evict the Occupy movement
  • Pursuing murderous US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in Orwellian opposition  to international law
  • Expanding US wars and armed attacks into more and more countries, despite treaties after both world wars that make use of military unlawful unless a country’s government attacks first (Kellogg-Briand and UN Charter)
  • Expanding terrorist-by-definition drone wars on Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen (now spending more on drone operations than the entire budget of the CIA)
  • Calling for more illegal wars on Syria and Iran while darkly hinting of an official first strike policy for use of nuclear weapons
  • Torpedoing the nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament negotiations and ramping up new nuclear weapon design, testing, and deployment
  • Suppression of news from Fukushima, including ordering EPA to halt air and food sampling and working with other countries towards the same ends
  • Assassination of Americans upon the non-reviewable dictate of the president
  • Maintaining the Bush-era torture prisons and black sites
  • Maintaining illegal rendition as official policy
  • Control-drown/waterboarding anyone deemed a “terrorist” and extending sensory deprivation to local jails and State prisons despite all US and international case law finding this to be torture
  • NDAA 2012 and 2006 Military Commissions Act that state the president can dictate any person as a “terrorist suspect,” and then disappear them without challenge or recourse
  • Signing presidential executive order saying the US government can seize any resource, any person, at any time for “national defense”
  • Minting his own Alberto Gonzales continuing criminal enterprise rubber stamp — Eric Holder
  • Siding with Exxon, BP and the Koch brothers to accelerate climate- and ocean-destroying pollution; and
  • Torpedoing the climate talks in Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban.

Cicero had some advice for this predicament also, although Carville delicately avoids bringing it up. The first piece of advice is to go negative by portraying Romney as a man of low morals.

Said Quintus to his brother, “Remember how [Antonius] was expelled from the Senate after a careful examination by the censors?... When he ran for praetor he could only muster Sabidius and Panthera to stand beside him.... After he was elected... , he disgraced himself by going down to the market and openly buying a girl to keep at home as a sex slave...” Romney may not have sex slaves at home, but the Mormon card will be played — bet on it. The Banes Capital corporate raider card is already in 30-second spots in key markets.

Wrote Cicero, “To speak bluntly, since you are seeking the most important position in Rome and since you have so many potential enemies, you can’t afford to make any mistakes.... Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm…. There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people.”

What neither Carville nor Obama care to recall is that there is much older advice, going back to Aristotle’s Politics, Book V, four centuries earlier:

 “Constitutional governments and aristocracies are commonly overthrown owing to some deviation from justice… the rich, if the constitution gives them power, are apt to be insolent and avaricious.
“In all well-tempered governments there is nothing which should be more jealously maintained than the spirit of obedience to law, more especially in small matters; for transgression creeps in unperceived and at last ruins the state, just as the constant recurrence of small expenses in time eats up a fortune.”

And in fact, that is what history tells us became of the Cicero brothers. They were killed two decades after that election, during the civil wars that accompanied the demise of the Republic of Rome and the birth of the military-dominated Roman Empire.

If there is a hopeful note in the 2012 Tweedledum and Tweedledumber election, it is being sounded by the Occupy movement, which is now in Chicago at the NATO summit and plans to turn out for both political conventions (some occupiers may right now be staying in the Chicago burb of Cicero, Illinois).

“Nobody for President” has never had greater meaning. Democracy, real democracy, has never been closer to coming home.

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