The GOP should probably study some Roman history

Librarians are expected to be three things: 1) female (mostly), 2) mousy and shy, and 3) avid readers. I fail on counts 1 and 2—very much male, and quite dapper and boisterous, if my loved ones are to be believed. But I cop to number 3. I am and always have been an avid reader. At this moment I have 3 books going at the same time.

As an avid reader, one of the topics I've consumed since I was a child has been Roman history. I still remember a wonderful children's history of Rome from its mythical founding to its fall that never stayed long on my school library's shelf as I always had it out. I'm not a scholar of Roman history, but I have more than a passing familiarity with its outlines and its meat.

The most traumatic moment in Rome's rise to power—and an event which, despite its immediate disastrous consequences, set it on the course for empire—was the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE. There's literally a mini-industry of historians that focuses almost exclusively on this period of Roman history, and how this period solidified what we consider to be traditional Roman traits that set the city on the path to world empire. There are many, many good books on the subject; I just finished reading The Punic Wars by Adrian Goldsworthy, and last year read The Ghosts of Cannae by Robert L. O'Connell, both excellent tomes which I can't recommend enough to those interested in Roman history.

The story used to be known to every schoolchild—before budget cuts and the rise of anti-intellectualism. Carthaginian general Hannibal—a military leader who ranks with Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon in genius—who was sworn to undying enmity towards Rome by his father, invades Italy in the winter of 218 BCE, and goes on to defeat every single Roman army sent after him. His greatest victory, Cannae, is still taught in military academies the world around. In it, he defeated the largest army the Roman Republic had ever fielded—around 80,000 citizen and allied militia—and was on the verge of winning the war. For various reasons he didn't march on Rome, and the Roman Senate refused to hear his peace offerings, determined to fight on until Carthage was no longer a threat. Rome finally found a general, Scipio, who was Hannibal's equal, and invaded the Carthaginian homeland of modern-day Tunisia, where Scipio dealt Hannibal his only defeat—a defeat, however, which destroyed Carthage as an ancient superpower and set the path for Rome to conquer the Mediterranean.

At Cannae, Hannibal lured the Romans to commit all their forces to attack what they thought was the weak Carthaginian center. The center gave way—made up mostly of recently recruited allies—but Hannibal's best troops were on the wings. As the Romans poured more troops in, Hannibal had his wings attack the Romans, while Hannibal's center wheeled around and recommenced the attack. The Romans were slaughtered.

The GOP is doing the same thing the Romans did. This election season has been nothing but a full frontal assault on President Obama's achievements and policies. The GOP is attacking what it sees as a "weak center", thinking it can overwhelm what it sees as a lackluster administration. And Obama just lets the GOP pour in more troops and more money into those attacks, biding his time. And then what? One wing closes in with the marriage equality announcement. Another wing closes in with the immigration policy announcement. The center wheels around and dares the GOP to spend time on Eric Holder rather than pumping up the economy. The center and wings keep pressing in on an overcommitted GOP, while the cavalry darts in and out on the rear. Obama puts the GOP in a box from which it can't escape its extremism, as today's Bloomberg poll shows, and dispatches it methodically, until it's eradicated.

The events of the past couple of months make me convinced that, among his many other attributes, Pres. Obama has studied this battle, and is basing this year's election strategy on it. The GOP corners itself into a smaller and smaller area, taking more extreme positions of which the public simply doesn't approve, and Obama closes in—smiling, of course, but no less deadly politically. The fact that neither the MSM nor the GOP can see this is both amusing and gladdening; they won't know what's happening until they're littering the political field.

Now, Hannibal ultimately lost. But the one thing the Romans possessed which the GOP doesn't is adaptability. The Romans adapted to their enemies, evolving to meet evolving threats. The Roman political system was able to be supple enough to meet the threat from Hannibal. This modern GOP knows only one speed, one course of action. It's unable to change to meet Obama's strategy, instead falling back on its big money backers to overwhelm an enemy which has already moved on, penning it in. Hannibal lost to Scipio. The GOP has no Scipio.

Perhaps if GOP leaders and "political reporters" were a bit more well-rounded in their educations this president might not take them by surprise as much. But for the moment I can live with their ill-education.