After the riots in Athens, the Greek authorities decided to enact new laws to deal with their obvious problems. The new laws, which treat rich and poor alike for the first time, have been seen has harsh. The name of the legislator who wrote the laws is a man called Draco. The date is believed to be 621 B.C. And more than 2,600 years later, the adjectival form of his name -- draconian -- is still tossed around here in Washington anytime someone proposes real budget cuts.
Of course, most of the Washington hands who hurl the "draconian" charge around probably do not know that Draco's laws were considered "just" according to Aristotle. For the first time in Athenian law, the codes were written down so that even poor people could know what was legal and what was illegal -- thus they could avoid inadvertently breaking the law.
Also, for the first time, the government took responsibility for enforcing punishment for crimes -- thus ending the need for vendettas.
The only "draconian" part of Draco's laws was the punishment for their violation, which he set as death for all violations, whether petty theft or murder. The reason for the "harsh" punishment, Plutarch explained in his "Life of Solon":
"It is said that Draco himself, when asked why he had fixed the punishment of death for most offenses, answered that he considered these lesser crimes to deserve it, and he had no greater punishment for more important ones." (Now, this was a man!) Hat tip to Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for that parenthetic phrase.
So, as we enter budget season in Washington this week, unless the Republican proposals include a death sentence for their violation, no one should get away with hurling the charge of "draconian cuts." The charge is both prefabricated and historically illiterate.
Actually, considering the unconscionable level of deficit-passing recidivism practiced in Washington for decades now, the "draconian" punishment has a certain appeal -- at least for those of us of the old school.
The Scots also have a fine tradition of firm enforcement of the law. According to a Scottish proverb (that would seem to have been inspired by the draconian spirit): "Hang a thief when he's young, and he'll not steal when he's old."
One certainly cannot argue with the logic of the proverb -- although given the level of theft at the time, so many hangings may have adversely affected population growth.
Lamentably, capital punishment is not on the table for discussion in our capitol -- only the technically non-criminal matter of spending less of the people's money, and borrowing less of the Chinese's money.
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.