It’s election day, and I’ve finally made up my mind. I’m voting for the Republic.
The credit goes to Cicero. Over the weekend, Gen and I watched the next installment of the HBO series Rome in which the Republic was thrown into turmoil following the assassination of the tyrant Julius Caesar by a group of Senatorial conspirators, led by Marcus Brutus. A power struggle ensued, with the fate of the 500-year old Roman Republic hanging in the balance. Maneuvering behind the scenes was the great orator Marcus Cicero, who believed passionately in the Republic and worked strenuously on its behalf. This meant a struggle against Caesar’s youthful heir, the scheming, ambitious Octavian, and the powerful Marc Antony, Cesar’s right-hand general, both of whom had dictatorial desires of their own.
It’s great drama (well played by HBO) and an important history lesson. Cicero tried valiantly to keep the Republic intact, only to see his plans shattered on the battlefield when Brutus’ army was destroyed by Octavian and Antony. The victorious generals returned to Rome and seized power. Knowing that the Republic’s days were numbered, Cicero quietly retired to his country villa, where he awaited his inevitable murder by the dictators (who had his hands cut off and nailed to a door in the Forum). Eventually, of course, Octavian defeats Antony (and Cleopatra) in battle, changes his name to Augustus, and becomes Emperor, polishing off the Republic for good.
I rooted hard for Cicero, even though I knew how the story ended. I cheered him on because I believe that our own Republic is under assault from dictatorial forces, though without the swords and togas. I don’t know how our story ends, of course, but I am fretful about current events, many of which point in dark directions.
Take the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling back in 2010, which unleashed a catastrophic flood of money from corporations and billionaires into our political system with consequences that cannot be good for our democracy in the long run. The round-the-clock carpet bombing of negative political ads on TV, for example, has certainly bred huge amounts of disgust, apathy and cynicism among the electorate. I’m equally certain the flood has had other pernicious effects as well. Money corrupts, and huge amounts of money corrupts hugely. It’s corrupted our democracy – just as unbridled wealth corrupted the Roman Republic, according to Cicero, among others.
Then there are the plutocractic elements at work in our nation. Cicero would have been shocked at how much power, wealth, and influence is concentrated today in the hands of a few individuals and corporations. I’m shocked. It didn’t used to be this way and I’m not sure how it happened, but somewhere along the line Americans lost control of their future, and large parts of their nation. Now they’re in danger of losing the presidency as well. The plutocrats supporting Mitt Romney’s run, as well as their work down the ticket in every state, barely conceal their motives: to concentrate wealth and power even more. The audaciousness of these elements is deeply worrisome.
Most galling, however, was the shocking and chilling attempt by anti-democratic forces to disenfranchise voters from actually voting, mostly by making it difficult to cast a ballot. In state after state across the nation, obstacles of all sorts were put in the way of poor people, minorities, and the elderly to discourage them from voting, such as requiring a photo ID card or restricting early voting hours. The stories I read were extremely disturbing. In a democracy, every effort should be made to encourage participation in an election, not actively discourage people. I don’t remember this sort of behavior when I was young, so why is it happening now?
There are other worrisome signs, which I won’t go into here. It all adds up to this: I fear for our Republic.
That’s why I’ll vote for Obama today. I’m not a fan, as I’ve explained, of either him or the Democratic Party, but I’ve decided that a vote for the President is a vote for the Republic. He’s certainly no Cicero, but he is a decent person as well as someone who will continue to govern democratically, even if it means Business-as Usual for the next four years. A victory by Obama means, at the very least, that the Republic will stand until 2016 (I hope so anyway). A vote for anyone else would encourage the anti-democratic forces in the country. As it is, we may only be buying four more years for the Republic. But I can’t think about that right now.
Today, the choice is clear.