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How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians Hardcover – February 13, 2012
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A New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice (8/5/2012)
"Were he alive today, no doubt, Quintus would be making big bucks as a political consultant. . . . Speaking to us from a distance of more than two millenniums, Quintus Cicero's words are incisive and revelatory: They remind us that, when it comes to that strange beast known as politics, human nature hasn't changed very much since then. The past, that's right, isn't even past."--Nick Owchar, Los Angeles Times
"How to Win an Election . . . is a timely new edition for the US 2012 campaign. . . . Most reviewers of How to Win an Election have been struck by its modernity."--Mary Beard, New York Review of Books
"Two thousand years ago, Quintus Tullius Cicero gave his elder brother, Marcus, an unusually frank guide to winning votes--and, on the principle that democracy's brutal essentials have changed little over the centuries, Princeton University Press has now brought out How to Win an Election. . . . [The book] shows that a campaigner's concerns have remained just as constant as the debate about whether any democracy is ever democratic enough."--Peter Stothard, Wall Street Journal
"Just in time for the primaries and the big showdown in November comes the wisdom of the ancients, in this case from Quintus Tullius Cicero, younger brother of Marcus, the greatest ancient Roman orator--perhaps the greatest of all time--who, more than two thousand years ago, ran for the highest office in the Roman Republic."--Steve Levingston, WashingtonPost.com's Political Bookworm blog
"The pamphlet of Quintus Cicero is filled with savvy political soundbites, still relevant today. . . . Some things never change."--Maggie Galehouse, HoustonChronicle.com's Bookish blog
"[Quintus Cicero's] How to Win an Election is a quick, punchy, and thoroughly entertaining read, cleanly translated by Philip Freeman, chairman of the classics department at Luther College."--John Kass, Chicago Tribune
"The advice holds up. These candidates must have classics scholars on staff, because a close read of Cicero reveals they're following his counsel."--David Weigel, Slate
"Besides the fact that this small book contains such time-worn advice as 'promise everything to everybody' to the value of being a social chameleon, I learned that sexual scandals were fodder for upending an opponent's political campaign even as far back as 64 B.C. Well, as they say, mutatione rerum magis, tanto magis stetisse ('the more things change, the more they stay the same'), or something like that."--Guardian.co.uk's GrrlScientist blog
"I just hope my opponent in the next campaign doesn't get a copy."--James Carville, Foreign Affairs
From the Inside Flap
"In his election advice to his brother Marcus, Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist with a clear understanding of opposition research, organization, and turnout (though a little weak on message). Fresh, lively, and sharp, this primer provides timeless counsel and a great read for the modern political practitioner."--Karl Rove, former deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush
"Given the lowly state of politics these days, this ancient Roman handbook on electioneering shows how little has changed. Freeman has done a masterful job of bringing this delightful text into the modern day--so masterful that one might think it was actually a spoof."--Gary Hart, former U.S. senator
"Loaded with down-and-dirty advice on how to sway voters and win office in ancient Rome, this practical campaign handbook offers shameless hints for political hopefuls of any era: making and breaking promises, networking and calling in favors, spreading rumors, appealing to special interests, speechifying, pressing the flesh, and more. Wickedly funny, astute, and timeless!"--Adrienne Mayor, author ofThe Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithradates, Rome's Deadliest Enemy
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People go about their daily lives because they live one day at a time; they love politics for the same reason they love lotteries, both give them eternal hope of someday winning a truly tremendous jackpot. As Alexander Pope so neatly wrote, "Hope springs eternal in the human breast; man never is, but always to be blest."
"There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election," Cicero's younger brother advised Marcus, "favours, hope, and personal attachment."
Hope is the essence of every great society. People work hard to benefit their interests and create a better future for themselves and their children. Politicians who best promise hope for that better tomorrow will draw unlimited loyalty, support and effort from their followers even when they warn of the rigours they must sacrifice today to succeed tomorrow.
It is why Quintus Tullius Cicero emphasizes to Marcus that he must give voters hope of a better Rome. Even the most cynical need to believe in someone or something; it's after the election that politicians can cleverly explain why "the big rock candy mountain" is really nothing but a pile of gravel -- which voters themselves must shovel.
The minor weakness of this book is the lack of comment on how to "lose" an election; as happened to Sen. John McCain in 2008, when he carried the millstones of George W. Bush and Sarah Palin around his neck. It is worth noting Barack Obama did not "win" the 2008 election as much as Bush "lost" it for McCain -- who is a decent, honourable and capable public servant (usually).
But this book is not a post mortem analysis; it's a "How to" for successful campaigns, not a 'How did we ..." dirge for obituaries. It applies to every winning campaign. Before an election, everything is bright and hopeful and possible; likewise, before the lottery numbers are drawn, the dreams of riches are boundless and the promises of generosity include everyone.
It's why campaigns and lotteries are always such exhilarating exercises in optimism and trust. Quintus sums it up with eloquence, wisdom and a common sense that has not changed in thousands of years.
The lessons are the same then and now because the subject is "how to get humans to vote for you", which translates into "how to work with human nature" This book is about how to make a connection, curry favor, get others to help you and how to avoid making people not want to support you.
Written by one brother to another who is questing election to Rome's highest office in the Republic period, the slim guide lays out its advice in a series of fifty or so numbered maxims. These are short paragraphs that speak to things to do and things not to do if you want to be a successful candidate. Each maxim contains a couple of sentences of explanation/rationale which makes this a superb guide because it not only advises, but convinces the reader of the credibility of the advice. Thus, we get instructions about making friends; about soliciting the opinions of those whose support you covet; about learning about your opponent's weaknesses and past and using that information to knock the opponent before undecided voters; that it is better to make promises and leave voters with hope and later disappoint them than to tell them "no" and disappoint them prior to an election; that being hopeful and building the hopes of voters is a winning strategy. These truisms are very cynical, but the reader needs to keep in mind the sole objective of the book is to instruct on the waging of successful political campaigns and not on statesmanship.
This is a quick read (an hour, hour-and-a-half or so) with the original Latin on one page and the translation on the facing page. The translator also provides a glossary and brief historical context that bridges the specifics of Rome 20 centuries ago for the modern reader. Any contemporary observer of politics will recognize the lessons and "how to's" contained in this ancient tract and how true they are for the most part in contemporary politics.
In my own copy, two or three leafs of pages came loose while I was reading. But that was probably just my copy.
The book itself is probably worth its weight in gold.
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The reason probably is that it works.