Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Politics as usual

The Ancient Roman Republic was the template upon which the American Republic was modeled. It was born, according to legend, because Sextus Tarquiniius, the son of the last king, Tarquinius Superbus (the Proud) abused his power and raped a noble woman, Lucretia, who was a woman of great chastity and virtue. Lucretia killed herself and her brother-in-law, L. Junius Brutus (the ancestor of the Brutus who assassinated Caesar) and Lucretia's husband, Collatinus led the Romans in revolt and displaced the Tarquins and the monarchy. From that point on the term rex, king, was utterly distasteful and sacrilege. A republic was set up in its place.

To curb the power of the once absolutist kings, the Romans instituted the position of consulship which was held by two men, both of which had veto power (to check each other), imperium (the right to enforce the death penalty) and the ability to command armies in the field. The further genius of this position was that consuls could only serve for one year, must be 42 years old and must have completed the cursus honorum, the ladder of honors prior to running. If a consul wished to be consul again, he would have to wait 10 years before standing again. The consuls were chosen by the centuriate assembly, which grouped Roman citizens by their property classes, the most propertied having the most electoral power while those who constituted the proletariat (the lowest class), though more numerous, had only one total vote at their disposal.

From 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., the Roman Republic stood. For the last 100 years, it had survived despite the constant on-again, off-again civil war. In theory, the Republic, having survived for about 500 years could have had 1000 different people form different families in control of the Roman Republic. This never happened. I suppose that it was its longevity was the one of the many reasons why the founding fathers modeled our republic on that of the Ancient Romans. Essentially, the Roman consulship was controlled for these 500 years by about 35 families. If you were a Metellus, a Scipio, a Licinius, etc. and ran for office, your chances of succeeding were exponentially improved. Once a person from a family reached the consulship, he ennobled his family forever and thus there was a greater chance that one of his descendants would have been elected. If a person, whose family was not noble, was elected, which was rare, he was called a novus homo, a new man. Such notable novi homines were Cicero, Pompey and even Caesar. The interesting thing is that the Latin word novus, also means "strange." The Romans were a conservative people and hated change. That's why the continuous on-again, off-again civil war for 100 years. They knew the system was broken, but refused to abandon it for something new, because there was no precedent.

OK, so what's the point of this history lesson. Well, the Romans obviously believed in the power of the name alone. Apparently, so do we. With all the speculation surrounding who would now occupy Senator Hilary Clinton's senate seat, assuming she is confirmed to be the next Secretary of State, one of the names that has consistently been mentioned is Caroline Kennedy. Today, the speculation is put to rest and Kennedy is now offically the choice to succeed Hillary at least according to this report;

Caroline Kennedy has only her name. She has no resume. She serves on the board of several charities. She has a law degree and has passed the bar but does not practice. She really doesn't have to work considering that she has the Kennedy trust to live off for the rest of her life. But, despite her affability and other things, this woman has NO experience, none to fill a senate seat. She's not qualified. She has only her name.

The governor of New York has the authority to appoint the new person. Caroline apparently jumped right up and suggested she would be perfect. But here's the interesting thing--if this senate seat were to be filled by a general election, we wouldn't even be hearing Caroline Kennedy's name. Why? Because she couldn't run a campaing. Because her inexperience and her lack of doing anything would be ruthlessly and accurately portrayed by her opponents and she would probably have a snowball's chance in hell of winning. But since no election is going to happen, she expects the seat to be given to her. Why? She's a Kennedy.

Just like in Rome, where you would hope that the consulship could be more evenly distributed over the Roman citizenry, it's the same thing here. How long do we have to put up with the barrage of Kennedeys, Schrivers, Townsends, Rockefellers, Bushs in public office? Most of them are not qualified and are running on the basis of their family name.

If Caroline had actually run for the office, I wouldn't be complaining; she would be crushed because she has no experience and no discernable qualifications save for her good intentions. But she demanded the senate seat and the only thing that gives her consideration is her damn name.

We are screwed as a country. Cronyism is alive and well. Despite the era of change that is supposed to be ushered in with Obama, we see that, even with his cabinet posts, the close personal friends of the ones in power are the ones given power. And we, as a people, unfortunately, seem powerless to correct this.

Senators are the new reges of the Republic of the United States.

No comments: