Posted by Barry Strauss under on July 27, 2011

I don’t understand the debt crisis in Washington. I’m not an economist. But I do understand the election of 2012. And I know that whoever wins this week’s debate in D.C. will forge ahead in next year’s races.

To put events in perspective I turned to my usual source of wisdom on this matter, Julius Caesar’s ghost.

Hail, Caesar! What is your wisdom about elections?

Two things win elections: money and trust. Without money you can’t compete but without trust you can’t win. In Latin the words are pecuniae and fides. Pecuniae, money, comes from the word for cattle but fides, trust, points to higher things. In Rome Fides was a goddess with her own temple. Fides points to foedus, the word for a solemn pact of friendship. No Roman would ever rank pecuniae over fides.

What about scientia, the Latin for “skill”? Don’t you need that too to win elections?
You can buy skill. But you do need to have good judgment – prudentia.

Does President Obama have the prudentia, the pecuniae and the fides he needs to get re-elected?

If he wins in 2012 he will have the prudentia. Now he is raising all the money he needs for his campaign but the state of the economy is spinning his gold into dross. The public – now they don’t have pecuniae. And they are looking for someone to blame. If Obama wins the debate in Washington this week, they will blame the Republicans and the Tea Party in Congress. If Obama loses, he risks losing the trust of the nation.

Isn’t that a bit overheated? Surely you don’t think that Boehner’s dullness is prevailing.
Dull is cool and, when it comes to politics, cool beats hot. The president is struggling. You could see it in the anger in his speech this week. Obama may be right to feel anger – Caesar makes no judgment – but he is wrong to show it. I refer to the words that my friend, Gaius Sallust, put in my mouth in his Catiline’s War: “Men with great power have no privacy: the higher the office, the less the freedom of action. For others, it is called rage, for those in power it’s named arrogance and cruelty.”

Is it too late for President Obama to turn things around?

Certainly not. The President is the guardian of the nation. The people want to trust him; he must show them how. A talented leader can reverse his fortune. Caesar, in fact, once stopped a mutiny with a single word. “Quirites,” he called the soldiers – “citizens,” instead of the word he normally used – “Commilites” or “fellow soldiers.” In other words, he fired them. That was enough to make lambs of lions and end the mutiny.

What word should the president use?
Only Caesar can win with a single word.

And with that, the conqueror turned and strode back to Hades.

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