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Age-Old Election Tactics Are in Fact ... Old

May 11, 2012
Sick of politicians pandering to voters, making vague promises, and smearing their opponents? This month's edition of Foreign Affairs offers some perspective. Those campaign tactics have been with us since ancient Rome. 

Here are some gems excerpted from a new translation of The Commentariolum Petitionis, or "Little Handbook on Electioneering," believed to be a memo written by Quintus Cicero to his brother, Marcus Tullius, in 64 B.C. while Marcus was campaigning for consul:

* "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 in court. . ."

* "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... it is better to have a few people in the Forum disappointed when you let them down than have a mob outside your home when you refuse to promise them what they want. . . ."

* "Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show... 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."

* "The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you."

And my personal favorite:

* "Don't leave Rome! . . . There is no time for vacations during a campaign."
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