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"Better than Cicero"

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Heh—I just encountered a bit of news from before the debate, when each campaign was saying what a great debater their opponent was. (The idea being to reduce expectations for one's own candidate, while also providing a handy excuse for losing, should that unfortunate event transpire.) The Kerry campaign said that Bush had never lost a debate. As for the Bush campaign:

Matthew Dowd, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, said in an interview that Kerry "is very formidable, and probably the best debater ever to run for president. I think he's better than Cicero," the ancient Roman orator. "I'm not joking." Dowd added.

That's from a September 27 Washington Dispatch article by freelance political writer Vincent Fiore.

. . . And (speaking of writing errors, as I was in the previous entry) boy could that article have used a proofreader. "Kerry needs solutions, which he has thus far lacked for most issues, and not attacks, with which he has depended on far too often." And: ". . . he also attempts to energize the Independents and 'security moms' by striking a pose on Iraq. It is a pose—one of victory and one of failure—that he has vacillated between since the Iowa Caucus." (Vacillating between a single pose takes a lot of skill, especially if that single pose is one of both victory and failure.) And: "John Kerry will let in all out on that Florida stage. . . ."

Where are the proofreaders of yesteryear? What would Cicero do? (Assuming, y'know, he could read and write modern English.)

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I think my friend Hanah may have discovered one of the all-time worst examples of proofreading recently:

This forgery [The Protocols of the Elders of Zion], first penned by members of the Czarist secret police, the Okhrana, has been used by tyrants throughout the last 100 years to justify the persecution of Jews, including Adolf Hitler. --Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center

As Hanah comments, "Adolf Hitler was a Jew???"


One of my high-school Latin teachers used to say that John F. Kennedy's best speeches were very Ciceronian. Certainly, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country." is a pretty classic Ciceronian chiasmus.

Cicero would certainly never have anyone vacillate between a pose, or depend on with an attack. (Actually, that first sentence you quoted is clearly an attempt at a very Ciceronian paralellism. Like many such attempts in English, it trips over its own excess of pronouns and prepositions. Latin is often a much tidier language than English, which means that a lot of Cicero's best zingers sound totally lame in translation.)

I just went back and reread a bit of one of Cicero's speeches - one of the things that's most striking about it is the rhythm of it. Maybe if he were around today, Cicero would be rap star.


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