The Peter Pan Election

Posted by Barry Strauss under on September 1, 2012

I summoned up the ghost of Julius Caesar to talk about the last night of the Republican convention.

Hail, Professor!

Hail, Caesar! What did you think of the final night of the Republican convention?

I think that Clint Eastwood should stick to the movies.

No, I mean, what did you think of Governor Romney’s speech?


Romney came off as strong, intelligent, and enterprising. He played the father figure and tried to cast President Obama as a dreamer.

Romney framed things when he said: ““President Obama promised to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise…is to help you and your family.”

So, he’s a family man. But will America want a breadwinner?

The answer might not please the governor. As little Gaius Octavius learned after Caesar’s demise, there is magic in a name. After my will was read, Octavius learned that Caesar had adopted him. Octavius was now Gaius Julius Caesar or, simply, Caesar. (Today, we usually call him Octavian.) And suddenly, armies rallied to his side. Many of my veterans opted to follow the new Caesar. And in due course, he became Augustus.

Obama’s name is not what it was, that is true, but there still is more magic about it than Romney.

Americans are not Romans, O Dictator. They don’t want magic; they want prosperity.

Are you sure? Think of the election as one of your little fables…Peter Pan, I think it’s called.


Peter offers magic: flying, adventure, and eternal youth. Mr. Darling, the father of the family, represents the home. Wendy and the boys have to choose between the two.

And Wendy chooses Mr. Darling.

True, but your election might be different. Peter Pan could not open the spigot of federally funded programs, as Obama has. Nor did Peter have hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on attack ads.

Romney is promising to stoke the engine of the American economy. And he has at least as much money for ads as Obama.

He must use them wisely. Pompey and his supporters tried to brand Caesar as a radical because he disobeyed the Senate, but Caesar turned the tables. He made the Senators into the radicals because they ignored the tribunes, who represented the Roman people. Besides, Caesar’s real base was the army, and the Senate couldn’t touch that. His legions were loyal.

What’s the lesson here, O Dictator?

Victory is not just a matter of exerting force but of exerting force against the right target.

So, are you saying that if the election comes down to the Midwest, Romney just has to be solid and pragmatic? He just has to return again and again to the theme of the breadwinner versus the dreamer?

Romney might play the role of Mr. Darling, but the Obama campaign will try to make him into Captain Hook!


Barry Strauss is the author of Masters of Command: Alexander, Hannibal, Caesar and the Genius of Leadership (Simon & Schuster, 2012).

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