Let’s take a final look at Quintus’ Commentariolum Petitionis for this election cycle. While the usual “the more things change…” review of election tactics old & new has (spero) been interesting, I don’t want to be accused of promoting too much cynicism in our political process.
Nevertheless, I think the selection for today is one of the most biting. This sentence sounds like it could have been written yesterday:
Atque etiam in hac petitione maxime videndum est ut spes rei publicae bona de te sit et honesta opinio; nec tamen in petendo res publica capessenda est neque in senatu neque in contione.
(videndum est - “it must be seen” is impersonal, but might be better translated actively “you must see to it (that)"; rei publicae (dat. of poss.) is used generally for “the public", but in the bolded part that same phrase is more literally “the public business"–i.e. the government)
TOday we might glibly label the first section as Cicero’s “ability to connect with voters". But take a look at the bolded part; Quintus advice is to do nothing in senatu neque in contione–i.e. don’t make any legislative moves that your opponents could use against you. Modern political pundits have often pointed out the main difficulty (until this year) sitting U.S. Senators have had in a run for President: The length of their recent legislative records makes it easy to cherry-pick what turn out to be bad choices (It’s certainly more of an issue for Senator McCain–a 22 year veteran of Congress–compared with Senator Obama).
Quintus continues his point by reminding his brother of the things he should keep in mind (haec tibi sunt retinenda):
ut senatus te existimet (ex eo quod ita vixeris) defensorem auctoritatis suae fore,
(ut) equites R[omani] et viri boni ac locupletes (ex vita acta) te studiosum oti ac rerum tranquillarum [esse],
(ut) multitudo (ex eo quod dumtaxat oratione in contionibus ac iudicio popularis fuisti) te a suis commodis non alienum futurum.
(Terms in [brackets] are added for clarity, and I’ve set off the explanatory ex… phrases with parentheses. Note how the reflexive forms of suus in the acc. w. inf. clauses refer to the subject of the main clause; fore = futurum esse.)
Politicians today are often accused of offering different things to different groups just to win an election, but in this case Cicero’s oft-expressed desire for a concordia ordinum might be a more charitable explanation.
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