Monday, November 11, 2013

the pertinence of pertinax

Toward the end of today's string of posts over at Professor Pierce's wingnut reeducation camp, Charlie put up an item concerning a certain Noam Scheiber, a  pundit I've never read, who is apparently is trying to light a fire under the notion of a Hillary C. v. Liz Warren catfight for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

Besides the fundamentally distasteful nature of  attempting to foment war among feminists (fighting women!! Ho, ho), Scheiber's scenario, if it ever came to fruition, would spell disaster for the Democrats, tearing the party in two and splitting the progressives away from the rest. 

Now personally, I can't stand Mrs. Clinton, a hypocritical establishment politician if ever there was one. But she's as good as we're going to get right now. She'll have to win without my help (note to self: remind yourself that you have vowed never to vote for anyone who in 2002 helped Congress authorize the Iraq disaster).

And she may move in the direction of mild reform, scaling back the wars without defunding the weapons procurement boondoggle, demanding better gas mileage immediately from Detroit but not tackling more critical electrical generation issues, &c. &c.

Meanwhile, it would be best for now if Ms. Warren stays in the Senate, which clearly needs more radical reformers as well as radical reform. As the professor points out, she "plainly is developing a powerful sphere of influence among her colleagues without harshing too many delicate mellows there. If she can be a power in the Senate, then she should stay in the Senate, where she can do the most good on the issues she most cares about."

I can hardly believe what I'm about to type here, but I've come to believe that much reform undertaken too quickly is perilous, and can be destructive. I know that's the mantra of every closet fascist who ever dressed up in a sheepskin. So what? That doesn't make it untrue.

Consider the example of Pertinax, Emperor of the Romans for about six months in 193. He was a poor choice, for he was known to be a "my way or the highway" type of disciplinarian in a licentious age. Humbly born, working his way up through the ranks of the army through conspicuous merit, he faced a mutiny among the British legions, and was beaten and left for dead. By this time he had gained a wide reputation as an incorruptible but inflexible asshole.

After the emperor Commodus was murdered by a group of plotters led by the commander of the home guards (the Praetorian Prefect) and including his mistress and a wrestler named Narcissus, Pertinax was acclaimed Emperor by the Senate and by the power that really mattered, the Praetorian Guard.

He immediately launched a thoroughgoing reform program, zeroing in on the alimenta (wheat dole), revaluing silver coins from 74 to 87 percent, and most dangerously, refusing to give the army the (by then) customary "donative," or bribe. When the home guard became so agitated they became obviously  dangerous, Pertinax finally coughed up about half of what they demanded by selling off Commodus's possessions, including his hundreds of sex slaves of both genders.

The Praetorian Guard was not placated, however, for the incorruptible and severe emperor's rush to reform had destabilized Roman society's customary relationships of bribes and patronage. When a mob of 300 Praetorians headed for the palace, Pertinax, fearless to a fault went out to meet them.

After they murdered Pertinax, the Praetorians openly and blatantly sold the emperorship to the highest bidder, an overweight plutocrat with the wonderful name Didius Julianus. The year of five emporors, 193, was on, and would end with a corrupt but competent ruler in charge, who ushered in a stable but short interlude before the deluge.
Hillary will make a much better president than the current occupant, who stands "dangling his bonnet and plume" as the nation falls to pieces around him. She'll skewer her political enemies with a sharp tongue, easily beat whatever loogie the other guys cough up and call a candidate, and possibly lead in a mildly reformist mode, which she'll trumpet as radical change as her political opposition accuses her of everything they can think of it.

Real reform will originate in other spheres of government, outside the White House. And let's face it, Hillary "ain't today's special, she's what we got."

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