August 28, 2012

When In Rome ...

They say those who forget history are condemned to repeat it. Well, sometimes it wouldn't be so bad if history did repeat itself. As we ponder the empty pageantry of the Republican and Democratic conventions, I offer this lesson from history, with a tip of the hat to Plutarch's Lives, which is where I found this tale of old Rome.

In the early days of the Roman Empire, there was a major shortage of woman. So, Romulus, the founder of Rome, devised a plan. Under cover of a festival, he lured the neighboring Sabines to come and party down. When the revelries reached their height, Romulus gave a signal and a brief battle ensued during which the Romans stole all the Sabine woman. Naturally, this caused a lot of hard feelings among the Sabine men.

Long story not so short, the Sabines bided their time and  some years later launched a counterattack. Another fierce battle with the Romans ensued, but the ending was unexpected on both sides. In the heat of battle, the Sabine woman came out and begged the Sabine men to stop. The woman were treated with respect in Rome, had married freely, and had families. They loved their Sabine brothers and sisters, but they didn't want to give up the lives they had built in Rome. The women asked if everyone couldn't just get along together.

The Sabines settled into a relatively peaceful coexistence, helped by a generous gift of money and land from the Romans. That lasted until Romulus died. This left a huge power vacuum. The Sabines thought it was their turn to have a king in charge. The Romans were reluctant to do so. The Senate stepped in and said, "We'll do it." Even in those days, no one trusted politicians, and the people soon registered their dislike for that solution, bringing things back to Square One. Here's where it gets interesting.

After much back and forth, someone came up with a brilliant idea: The Sabines could choose a Roman to be king or the Romans could choose a Sabine. The Sabines deferred to the Romans and the Romans were more willing to accept a Sabine king as long as they could choose him. The Romans nominated one Numa Pompiius, a Sabine of excellent reputation. The choice was quickly accepted by the Sabines and peace returned to the valley.

So think about it. What would the American political system be like if something like this was used for the presidential primaries? The Democrats would have to nominate the Republican, and the Republicans would have to pick the Democrat. Call me crazy, but I kind of like the idea. For damn sure, we couldn't do any worse.

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