Suzanne Fields
"How to Win an Election" is a little primer, published by Princeton University Press, that flew out of bookstores just in time for the Nov. 6 election. The bright red cover reminded some older purchasers of Chairman Mao's famous "little red book" of a generation ago. Several hundred copies seem to have found their way to President Obama's election headquarters in Chicago.

Not that the Obama campaign actually took any of the advice -- about how to lie, exaggerate and make promises impossible to keep.

"If a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep," the author advises, "he wouldn't have many friends." Candidates are told "there are three things that will guarantee you votes in an election: favors, hope and personal attachment." And this: "Know the weaknesses of your opponents -- and exploit them."

The primer, called "a guide for modern politicians," was written more than 2,000 years ago by Quintus Tullius Cicero for his brother Marcus Cicero, the famed orator who was a candidate for consul of Rome in 64 B.C., but you would have to be a resident of Mars or maybe Pluto not to see its modern relevance. There's even a book jacket blurb by Karl Rove: Quintus Cicero shows himself to be a master political strategist of oppositional research, organization and turnout.

The little book, translated from Latin to vernacular English by Philip Freeman, should remain on the desks of office-seekers for the next four years, its principles underlined, for Obama's second term. Candidates are told to "make good use of young people who admire you and want to learn from you, in addition to all the faithful friends who are daily at your side."

Mitt Romney might wince at this: "You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but can be rather stiff at times. You definitely need to learn the art of flattery -- a disgraceful thing in normal life, but essential when you are running for office."

Successful politicians cultivate a good memory and have learned this bit of wisdom: "First, nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces."

A few days before the election, a young friend told me of having met Barack Obama, then a mere U.S. senator, at a Washington restaurant. When he saw her again a year later, he called her by name and recalled where they had met. She was ready to follow him to the end of the earth, or more to the point, to the White House, twice.

These Roman insights into campaign politics acknowledge the obvious, that politics is a treacherous sport. Quintus Cicero reminds his brother to cultivate his skill as a speaker, and this is good advice "going forward" (in the new cliche) for Obama.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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