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Brainiac

Political advice from 64 BC

And other highlights from the Ideas blog

Matthew Callahan/Globe Staff

One of the more entertaining books of this campaign season comes to us from 2,000 years ago: “How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians,” a memo full of campaign advice (probably) written by Quintus Tullius Cicero for his famous older brother Marcus on the occasion of his run for Consul in 64 B.C. The magazine Foreign Affairs adds a nice twist in its May/June issue: The editors have excerpted the book and added commentary by the political strategist James Carville, who notes—mournfully, guiltily, gleefully—that Cicero’s advice is completely relevant today.

Some choice bits from the book:

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Go negative early: “[One] factor that can help you as an outsider is the poor quality of those men of the nobility who are competing against you.”

Court the elite: “You must diligently cultivate relationships with these men of privilege. Both you and your friends should work to convince them that you have always been a traditionalist. Never let them think you are a populist.”

Develop a common touch: “You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times.”

Cultivate the youth vote: “It will also help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

And, best of all, make outrageous
promises:
“[I]t 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.”

Carville notes that it was probably easier to win—and surely easier to go negative—back when your opponent was “a murderer, child molester, and ‘friend of actors.’” In almost every other respect, though, Cicero’s memo accurately describes today’s politics. It even emphasizes, Carville writes, one of the central challenges for today’s politicians: “sucking up and spitting down, that is, paying far more attention to those with great power than to the great unwashed,” while at the same time avoiding anything which “might be perceived as class warfare.” My reaction: It’s incredible that politics works, despite everything.

***

tyree callahan

What’s a typewriter for these days? Tyree Callahan, an artist based in Bellingham, Wash., has a new answer: painting. His Chromatic Typewriter is a sturdy vintage typewriter upgraded with colored keys, and turned into a kind of mechanized paintbrush.

Callahan explains that it took a few months to find a suitable typewriter and modify it so that the keys would work. Because you can’t automatically reapply different colors of paint to different keys—a typewriter ribbon only applies black ink—you can’t really use it to create a sort of saturated, edge-to-edge painting. But Callahan has used it to create the lovely “paragraph” you see in the photo below—an experiment, he says, in “writing as art.”

Joshua Rothman is an Ideas columnist. He can be reached at joshua.rothman@gmail.com.
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