Wednesday, April 5, 2000

Solon, History's First Liberal

Those rubes in New Hampshire haven’t said anything that Classics Corner couldn’t have told you months ago. G.W. Bush has the brains and charisma of a hamster, and no chance of becoming President. He makes McCain look good, but not good enough to beat Al Gore, who will impersonate a human being for as long as it takes to win the throne.

Gore, you see, is a liberal, and liberals have an uncanny way of straddling the middle ground without splitting out their crotch and revealing far more than we want to know.

While Republicans want poor people to die unless there’s some profit involved, liberals like Gore honor our diversity because they need the votes.

History’s first liberal is probably Salon. Athens in 600 BC was about to explode into class war and everyone knew it. The lower classes were losing their land and being sold into slavery to pay their debts. There were dangerous grumblings. Some rich guy was about two seconds from getting a pitchfork buried in his gut.

It was time for reform.

According to Plutarch, Solon was “chosen to become an arbitrator and lawgiver; the rich consenting because he was wealthy, the poor because he was honest.” In trying to please both sides, he laid the foundation for what would become the most radical democracy the world has ever known.

Solon freed the poor from their overlords and eliminated debt slavery. He broke the back of the aristocracy and opened the door to democracy by organizing political representation by wealth. He extended judicial rights, in theory, to everyone.

This was not the Bolshevik Revolution, but all in all, it wasn’t a half bad start.

“In this,” says Plutarch, “he pleased neither party, for the rich were angry for their money, and the poor that the land was not divided ….”

The teeny tiny reforms of the Clinton years leaves Classics Corner feeling that the issues haven’t changed all that much. Our own congress recently defeated a proposal to prevent storefront usury outfits from charging one-hundred percent interest on loans. This was part of a package that would raise the minimum wage to a whopping $6.15 over three years.

For the math challenged, that’s $12,792 annually, before taxes. And some people wonder why there are so many homeless people.

It seems to us that slavery is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

But Classics Corner believes in change and loves liberals. We even would have watched Clinton’s State of the Union speech to its visionary end, had our butt not fallen asleep after the first hour and a half, outlasting our brain by a good forty-five minutes.

We struggle daily with our hard earned, world weary cynicism, and speaking in the third person plural all the while, will vote for nearly anyone who says that poor people are not just the figurative crud under their fingernails.

Solon, since no politician operates in a vacuum, practiced the art of the possible. He didn’t give the Athenians the best laws he could. He gave them, says Plutarch, the “best they could receive.”

Clinton and Gore would make the same claim. Maybe the rest of us need to rise to the occasion.

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