Washington has started in on its yearly ferocious battle over the budget. Spendthrifts and budget hawks will be thrilling the public with daring plastic swordplay. Terrible deprecations will be called down upon the heartless budget hawks for their indifference to the human suffering their proposed cuts will bring into being.
The spendthrifts, in their turn, will be accused of indulging in levels of spending that constitute Babylonian depravity, which will bankrupt the public fisc not only for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. Have they no sense of responsibility! Such profligacy will earn them posthumous curses from their children for the sundered public treasury we will have left them.
Already the Washington Post has invoked the memory of the 7th century B.C. Athenian politician Draco, calling President Bush's budget cuts "draconian." Actually, the Washington Post writer may not have known how canny he was in mentioning Draco, one of my favorite characters from the misty past.
The Athenian people had called on Draco to write down the laws, because they were tired of the aristocrats pronouncing arbitrary oral rules. It turned out that the old unwritten laws -- at least as researched and written down by Draco -- were quite tough. In fact, the penalty for almost all offenses was the death sentence.
This was fine with Draco. As Plutarch described it: "And Draco himself, they say, being asked why he made death the penalty for most offenses, replied that in his opinion, the lesser ones deserved it, and for the greater ones no heavier sentence could be found."
Oh, and for the mistake of going in debt, under Draco's laws, debtors were sold into slavery (except for the upper classes, wouldn't you know).
If only President Bush's cuts were draconian. Unfortunately, like every effort at controlling federal spending in the last quarter century (except for the House Republican effort of fiscal 1995-1996), President Bush's cuts, even if they are fully enacted, won't make any measurable difference to the level of federal debt for our children. He is proposing to reduce non-military, non-entitlement spending of about $400 billion by about $20 billion.
And he will have hell to pay from an outraged public if he gets even that, because federal spending programs are lovingly and carefully named to induce maximum, if ignorant, public support: children's hot lunches, Head Start, etc. Often more effort goes into naming a spending program than writing it. If the name is sufficiently adorable, no politician will have the nerve to cut it.
Blankley, who had been suffering from stomach cancer, died Saturday night at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, his wife, Lynda Davis, said Sunday.
In his long career as a political operative and pundit, his most visible role was as a spokesman for and adviser to Gingrich from 1990 to 1997. Gingrich became House Speaker when Republicans took control of the U.S. House of Representatives following the 1994 midterm elections.