Vote for Julius Agrestis

     We’ve suffered through presidential campaigns as bad as this one, so the United States will probably survive this one too.
     Still, all the hollering seems not just in bad taste, but unnecessary. (Murmur, murmur.)
     What’s all that murmuring out there? (Murmur, murmur.)
     When the director of an epic movie shoots a crowd scene, I’ve been told, the extras are told to mutter, “Purple, purple.” Get 1,000 people muttering “purple, purple” and you won’t understand a damn thing, but you’ll get the point: These folks are unhappy.
     That’s pretty much the level of discourse of this year’s Republican campaign.
     Honesty? Intelligence? Reality? You won’t get it from the candidates. You won’t find it in TV or newspaper reports either.
     But you can find it in “The Histories,” the best book yet on this year’s Republican campaign. Tacitus wrote it 1,900 years ago.
     “The Histories” is about the Year of Four Emperors: 69. A year very much like this one.
     Briefly: Nero was term-limited out in 68, under the psychopath clause of the Constitution (no longer in effect).
     In 69, four emperors held the throne: Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian. The first three held it for only a few weeks or months: until the next poll came along.
     Two of them – Galba and Vitellius – were assassinated by their party colleagues. Otho retired to spend more time with his family. I jest. He killed himself.
     None of these fabulously wealthy men had any concern for the millions of citizens in their empire. Or for each other. Or for anyone else. They were all members of the same exclusive club. They all felt they had the Right to Rule.
     Sound familiar yet? Maybe this will refresh your memory …
     After Otho and Galba had been bumped off, Vitellius lost a major battle to the next guy in line, whose army burned Verona to the ground and massacred everyone in it.
     This was unpleasant news for Vitellius. If the citizens learned, it could cut into his “base” – his donors, even. So when military spies arrived in Rome to tell Vitellius of the disastrous defeat, what did the emperor do? Tacitus says: “Vitellius interrogated all these men in secret and then had them killed.”
     Vote for Vitellius! He was a better leader than our Republicans, or our- gag -Democrats. When people brought him news he didn’t like, he didn’t just cut off their funding. He “moved forward” with “swift executive action!”
     You’d think Vitellius’ spies were bringing him news about global warming. Or the Laffer Curve. Or “abstinence-only” sex education. Or the economic effects of national health care. Or what’s really happening in Iraq … I mean, Parthia.
     Sure, killing people who disagree with you might upset our namby-pamby liberals today, but it’s way more efficient than just killing their funding. Executing a few climate scientists and physicians and of course lawyers would also reduce the whining around here, and make it a whole lot easier to “govern.”
     Then we could “move forward” to find more “government efficiencies.” For instance, dumping tons of fruits and vegetables and milk into landfills to keep prices “robust,” instead of “redistributing” it through food stamps to poor people, who would just waste it by eating it. Or feeding it to their kids.
     Well, this week’s show is over, Mouseketeers. Tune in next week to see the same show again.
     Let me leave you with Tacitus’ tale of the centurion Julius Agrestis, who “had many fruitless conversations with Vitellius” after the destruction of Verona, in which Julius tried “with remarkable persistence” to introduce the emperor to the concept of reality.
     When Vitellius refused to believe Agrestis’ eyewitness report, Agrestis told him: “Well, since you need conclusive proof and you have no further use for me whether living or dead, I will give you some evidence you can trust.”
     Whereupon Agrestis killed himself.
     But by then it was too late for Vitellius.

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