Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Democrats behave like Cato the elder

Cato the elder wouldn't shut up, and that started the Third Punic war:

A faction within the Senate, led by Cato the Elder, began to agitate against Carthage. Was it right, they asked, that Carthage should prosper while Romans toiled? Was Carthage's new prosperity not potentially dangerous? After all, the city had twice troubled Rome. And, in any case, Carthage was harming Roman mercantile interests.

Cato took the lead in these arguments. He was a prestigious statesman with a prestigious reputation. He was the classic virtuous Roman and he didn't mind that others knew it. His public career was spotless, his marriage was perfect, his oratory was compelling, his values were conservative, and all in all he got on some people's nerves.

Cato began to urge that the only sure defense against a resurgent Carthage was to destroy it. Rome would never be safe so long as Carthage stood. He made a campaign of it: Carthago delenda est! -- Carthage must be destroyed!

In the 150s this was Cato's slogan, repeated endlessly. At parties he would bring it up -- Carthago delenda est! In the Senate he might be speaking on any subject, but always found a way to work in his slogan: the harbor at Ostia should be expanded . . . and Carthage must be destroyed! the appointment of Gaius Gaius to provincial governor should be approved . . . and Carthage must be destroyed! A vote of thanks to a loyal tribal chieftain . . . and Carthage must be destroyed!

In the end, Cato got his wish. I might claim that Rome went to war simply to hush the old boy up....


Ted Kennedy and his boys are reading from Cato's songbook.

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