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Election 2013 will take us back to 64 BCE

Benjamin Herscovitch | 18 January 2013

op-127In 64 BCE, the great philosopher and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero ran for the position of consul—the highest elected office in the Roman Republic.

Not being from a noble family, Marcus was a political outsider trying to break into the inner sanctum of Roman power.

To give Marcus the best chance of realising his political aspirations, his younger brother Quintus offered some wily lessons in the pursuit of high office.

Quite aside from whether Quintus’ handbook of electioneering contributed to Marcus’ eventual election victory, it is a useful guide to the political trickery to watch out for in the lead up to the 2013 federal election.

Noting that valuable political capital can be amassed by smearing opponents, Quintus did not hesitate to endorse dirt files and rumour mongering.

He advised Marcus to remind the people 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.’

Whether in the form of whispers of salacious personal proclivities or resurrected stories of decades-old misjudgements, the ancient art of muckraking will almost certainly feature prominently in the 2013 election campaign.

On the off chance that distracting voters with titillating scandals is ineffective, Quintus reminded his brother that there is always the option of being the electorate’s yes man (or woman).

Quintus recommended never saying ‘no’ to a request, adding that Marcus should ‘not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. Stick to vague generalities.’

With a proliferation of ambiguous commitments to ‘do more,’ ‘take action,’ and ‘get results,’ this election year is likely to serve up candidates who are similarly big on promises but light on details.

Like any good strategist, Quintus also understood the power of chequebook politics.

One of his most important lessons for Marcus was that undecided voters can be won over by offering them ‘even small favours.’

As with the campaign for Roman consul, we can expect to see fast and furious pledges of support for all manner of interest groups and causes during this year’s political contest.

With the playbook for ambitious politicians apparently left largely unchanged for over 2,000 years, Quintus’ words serve as a warning for the Australian electorate of 2013.

Benjamin Herscovitch is a Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.