The big winner in the Republican debates …

… is Caligula’s horse Incitatus, no longer the gold standard for distinction beyond merit.

… has clearly been Caligula’s horse Incitatus.

For close on two millennia the poor beast, the victim of his master’s insane (or perhaps jocular) intention to make him Consul, has been a proverb for those offered for posts beyond their capacities. Here, for example, is John Randolph of Roanoke on John Quincy Adams’s choice of Richard Rush as Secretary of the Treasury:

Never were abilities so much below mediocrity so well rewarded; no, not when Caligula’s horse was made Consul.

As a result of the Republican debates, we can now give the innocent Incitatus – who never, after all, ran for Consul, or even galloped for it – a rest. Perry, Bachmann, Cain, Gingrich, and Santorum are all clearly less qualified for the office they seek than a horse would have been to serve as Consul. The Presidency, unlike the Consulate under the Emperors, still has real functions.

And at least Caligula proposed the entire horse.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

4 thoughts on “The big winner in the Republican debates …”

  1. Mark, I know you’re just citing that quote for its rhetorical power. But in its context, it was a rather loathsome example of partisan invective not unlike the nonsense spewed by Fox News today. I’d hate to think that some 22nd-century blogger at the grandchild of RBC would quote Breitbart’s attack on Shirley Sherrod as a nice use of language.

    In reality, Richard Rush was a highly talented, experienced, and successful public servant who did a fine job running the Treasury. Meanwhile, John Randolph of Roanoke was admittedly a great orator, but an unpleasant and not particularly successful person in other respects, a self-proclaimed aristocrat who sneered at democracy and equality. Just as Mitch McConnell said that his first priority in the Senate is to ensure that Obama is a one-term president, Randolph’s response to the election of Quincy Adams was “It is my duty to leave nothing undone that I may lawfully do, to pull down this administration”. Inventing colorful but deeply inappropriate rhetorical attacks on JQA’s nominees was just part of that “duty”.

  2. It was used in the 1930s when British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin appointed an obscure man named Sir Thomas Inskip as “Minsiter of Defence Co-ordination” in order to assuage fears that the UK was not doing doing enough to check the rise of Fascism. The appointment of such a cipher was intended to be seen as a gesture, and a sop to public opinion since the natural candidate was Winston Churchill.

    Wikipedia on Inskip:

    “When Inskip was named, one famous reaction was that “This is the most cynical appointment since Caligula made his horse a consul”.[8] His appointment is now regarded as a sign of caution by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin who did not wish to appoint someone like Churchill, because it would have been interpreted by foreign powers as a sign of the United Kingdom preparing for war. Baldwin anyway wished to avoid taking onboard such a controversial and radical minister as Churchill”

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