Opinion: Political deception as old as the Romans

POSTED: 02/10/14 9:53 AM

Dear Editor,

Many years ago, in a land far, far away, a political hopeful was taken aside by his brother, a man wiser in the workings of government, and given some advice on how to win elections.

I offer a paraphrased version of his advice here for the benefit of the legions of candidates wandering the political landscape making promises they have no intention of keeping.

It is important to call in all favours. Remind everyone you ever helped that they owe you. [The ones you gave taxi and bus permits to, civil servants you placed, the boys in the districts you gave small clean up contracts to, anyone you’ve done favors for in the past etc. If someone isn’t under an obligation to you, let them know their support will put you in their debt in the future.

As an elected official, you will be well placed to help them in their time of need. Promise everything to everyone. Except in the most extreme cases, candidates should say whatever the particular crowd of the day wants to hear. Tell traditionalists you have consistently supported conservative values. Tell progressives “socialist” you have always been on their side. After the election, you can explain to everyone that you would love to help them but, unfortunately, circumstances beyond your control have intervened, [The Dutch, Curacao, CFT or other entity].

Know the weaknesses of your opponents and exploit them. Winning candidates do their best to distract voters from any positive aspects their opponents possess by emphasizing their negatives. Rumours of corruption are prime fodder. Sexual scandals are even better. Flatter voters shamelessly. Look them in the eye, pat them on the back and tell them they matter. Make voters believe you genuinely care about them. Give people hope.

Even the most cynical voters want to believe in someone. Give the people a sense that you can make their world better and they will become your most devoted followers – at least until after the election when you will inevitably let them down. Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you.

Almost every destructive rumour that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends. There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favours, hope and personal attachment. You can win uncommitted voters by doing them small favours.

As for those you have inspired with hope, you must make them believe you will always be there to help them. The third class of supporters are those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you. Encourage this by adapting your message to the circumstances of each.

There are certain key people who exercise power and who can be persuaded to support you if they see you as useful to them, [Big Business, Unions, and Casinos etc.].  Be sure to distinguish these people from those who seem important but have no real power.

Eagerly and unashamedly cultivate friendships with people no decent person would talk to. Pay special attention to those who represent business people and moderately wealthy citizens. Most of them are young and easier to win over than those set in their way. It will 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.

If you hear or suspect one of your backers is not as firm in their support as they might appear, pretend this isn’t the case. If they try to explain the charges of disloyalty are untrue, assure them that you have never doubted their loyalty and certainly won’t in the future. Making them believe you trust them as friends increases the chance they really will be.

Politics is full of deceit, treachery and betrayal. Don’t trust people too easily. You must learn the art of flattery. If you use flattery to corrupt a person, there is no excuse for it, but if you apply ingratiation as a way to make political friends it is acceptable. Candidates must be chameleons, adapting to each person they meet, changing their expression and speech as necessary.

When people ask you to do something impossible, express your regret at turning down the request and promise that you will make it up to them in other ways. Saying “no” is only for extreme cases. If you refuse a person by making up some tale of a previous commitment, they can walk away without being angry with you.

If you say you are too busy or have more important things to do, they will hate you. People prefer a gracious lie to outright refusal. If politicians made only promises they were sure they would keep, they wouldn’t have many friends. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.

If you break a promise, the outcome is uncertain and the number of people affected is small. Refuse to make a promise and the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters. It is better to have a few people disappointed when you let them down than refuse to promise the mob what they want. The masses like sheep are easily herded.

The advice was given by Quintus Tullius Cicero to his elder brother, the Roman orator and philosopher Marcus Tullius Cicero, in 64 BC. Very little has changed in more than 2000 years.

How to Win an Election; An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians, by Quintus Tullius Cicero

Lessons already learnt well by St. Maarten’s established political elite.


Peter Gunn

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