The Roman historian Suetonius in his Lives of the Twelve Caesars claims that the first century Emperor Caligula planned to name Incitatus, his favorite race horse as Consul, and thereby entitle him to preside over the Roman Senate. Along with a number of other highly unconventional lifestyle choices, this proposed appointment is often cited as evidence of Caligula's madness. But, madness or no, the Incitatus appointment provides a potentially useful perspective from which to consider the arguments that have surfaced over the suitability of some of our newest senatorial aspirants.
Caligula doted on that horse. Incitatus lived in a grand marble stable. His every need was attended to by a large staff. He was sumptuously caparisoned, and ate his oats mixed with gold flakes from an ivory manger. Incitatus was, in a word, pampered, just as race horses should be given their prime function: race horses compete in high-stakes games from which their financial backers and the general run of spectators may derive significant winnings or losses. While I am sure there are some race horses past and present with many other fine qualities, their essential skill set is limited, and they justify their existence by delivering wins within the constraints of the highly specialized rules and customs of the racing game. This being the case, it is difficult to maintain that, were he around today, Caligula should have been regarded as crazy for bankrolling an Incitatus for U. S. Senator! campaign.
No one is arguing that the stakes in the Senate are not high; they certainly are. But, remarkably, these high stakes do not necessarily demand much beyond the same kind of limited essential skill set applicable to race horses. In the case of U.S. Senators these include being well-groomed, assuming the posture and tone on camera that the occasion requires, turning over any serious question to the staff, patience for indulging in the tedious rodomontade of senatorial courtesy, and voting in such a way that the majority of constituents regard themselves as winners. As we have learned, even the ability to read a long bill falls into the "desirable, but not necessary" category. In terms of the essential Senatorial skills and attributes, the truth is that Larry Craig exhibited them in superior measure to John McCain, because at least Larry Craig's votes, if not his recreational preferences, were 96 out of 100 times exactly as he advertised they would be to the voters.
So when critics chide a candidate for sounding like a slightly eccentric multiple cat fancier, or for exhibiting the gravitas of a bouncy high school cheerleader, I can only recall witnessing a flannel mouthed Lion of the Education and Labor Committee struggling to get out a few extemporaneous sentences of congratulation at a little pre-cocktail hour ceremony for a group of award-winning teachers, and observe-all that really matters is how they vote.