The Story of Cincinnatus

My mother and father’s family have deep roots in Cincinnati, Ohio.  I was born and raised in Cincinnati and currently attend the University of Cincinnati.  I am a proud Cincinnatian and truly love the city.  Few people however know the history of how Cincinnati received its noble name…

Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was a Roman dictator and model of a true public servant.

As the story goes, in 458 B.C. Cincinnatus, an elected officer of the Roman Empire retired to the country to farm his fields after his tour of duty.  The Romans however, were deeply involved in a brutal war with the Aequians and the future did not look promising.  After losing several battles, the Roman Senate appointed Cincinnatus dictator for six months to help relieve the army of these threats.  When Cincinnatus was approached about this appointment, he loyally accepted.  He assumed the role of dictator and, within sixteen days, succeeded in helping the struggling troops.  Once his task was accomplished, the humble Cincinnatus immediately returned to his farm.

The moral of the story is that Cincinnatus did not seek power but when needed by his country, he accepted the power and renounced it upon completion of his service.  Cincinnatus is a timeless example of a true statesman and something our politicians should aspire to today.

Like Cincinnatus, there have been several American presidents throughout history that, at times, have placed the good of the country above their own self-interests.  And, unlike Cincinnatus, there have been many who have not.  Today, in our complex, well-organized two-party system, we have seen many recent presidents and presidential candidates exhibit loyalty to a particular party or special interest group as opposed to the American nation as a whole.

There is no doubt that in these tumultuous times today we need a humble, patriotic and honest leader like Cincinnatus but my question is, can a ‘Cincinnatus’ win in the upcoming 2012 election?  Are Americans ready to vote for a candidate that is willing to make unpopular decisions for the best interest of our country?  Could such a leader gain enough support to win amidst our two-party system?


About sestenger

School: University of Cincinnati Major: Marketing Year: Senior Research Topic: The Story of Cincinnatus and Presidential Leadership: Can a Cincinnatus Win in 2012? Past Internships: PricewaterhouseCoopers (International Taxes), Kao Brands (Brand Manager Assistant), LPK (Client Services). Activities: Sorority, Campus Tour Guide, Undergraduate Mock Trial Team, Girl Scout Troop Leader
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4 Responses to The Story of Cincinnatus

  1. Kirstin says:

    You raise interesting questions as American politics become more polarized and divisive. Politicians tend to want to pander to their party and beat out their opponents just to prove their ability to govern.

    There is an interesting article that talks about political polarization in the most recent issue of the Presidential Studies Quarterly. “Presidents, Polarization, and Divided Government” by Jeffrey E. Cohen – Fordham University. Namely, he talks about the role of party activists in nominating a presidential candidate, and under what congressional circumstances s/he’ll push the party line or meet in the center.

    There is some other commentary in there about the potential consequences of kowtowing to the opposition too much. Without directly saying it, he is somewhat suggesting that it might be indicative of a polarization of the public as well. A politician wants to APPEAR strong and to have a monopoly on power…constantly capitulating is not the public’s idea of effective leadership. This is related to your question on if Americans are ready to have a leader that will make the right decisions…not just the one’s in line with their parties.

  2. Matt says:

    It will be interesting to see how this paper comes into shape. Unless something truly extraordinary happens, no candidate in the upcoming election will run on an “I will only serve one term” platform. In other words, no one will be explicitly using Cincinnatus’s willingness to give up power as the rationale for their campaign. Rather, I assume you are asking whether a candidate willing to take unpopular positions because they believe they are in the best interests of the country can win in 2012.

    But what would a modern Cincinnatus look like? John McCain ran as a “maverick” and many voters admired his willingness to take some positions out of step with his party. However, Presidents are also expected to listen to the American people. it is difficult for politicians to claim that they are simultaneously responsive to the American people and also willing to make unpopular decisions, which by definition fewer people agree with than not. In the upcoming election, what you’re essentially asking is could a candidate’s general willingness to face the electoral consequences of unpopular positions make them more popular for that reason with enough voters to outweigh the effects of having taken a number of positions with which more people than not disagree.

    Kirstin also raises a good point. I think there is a tendency to heap blame for divisions on politicians as if they are not responding to pre-existing divisions among the American people. Americans are expressing a lot of frustration about Congress’s unwillingness to come together to find a solution to the long term debt challenge, but how many potential solutions (eg. tax hikes, entitlement cuts) are rendered political non-starters precisely because of the predictable reactions of various groupings of voters. The unwillingness of politicians to compromise, exposes a fatal flaw not only in the politicians, but in the voters as well.

    Perhaps this is exactly what you are getting at and perhaps we should be able to expect this Congress and this President to ignore such pressure and make the right decision regardless of electoral retribution. But even that would require a specific compromise package. The President, unlike Cincinnatus, is not a dictator and so even if he were willing to pack up and go home in January 2013, he and Congress would still need to work this out together.

  3. Jonathan Robinson says:

    Not in this policy group, but as a Cincinnatan I felt I had to comment. I would argue that this paper is a little bit missing the point about elections! Isn’t the point that all Presidential candidates pretend to be the Cincinnatus on the campaign trail? They run as patriots, claiming to make the hard decisions. How about a paper that would look at how President’s evolve from the ideal Cincinnatus to become a bit more of a realist. Love the Cincinnati talk!

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