WASHINGTON — WELL, HERE we go again. It's 12:20 a.m. Tuesday, and the buffoons and poltroons are still playing their five-day soap opera, "As the Budget Churns." Everything is stopped in Washington except Congress' blah, blah, blah.
Amazingly, tourists line up outside the Capitol to glimpse the honorables' bizarre show. Disgust is raucous. "The other zoo was closed, so I SandyGradycame to see the trained baboons," says a Chicagoan. A man from St. Paul, Minn., says, "I wouldn't let these wimps mow my lawn."
Inside the marble Puzzle Palace, the honorables are dogged by frustration, fatigue and self-loathing.
"Face it," says Rep. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., "we are the laughingstocks of the world."
Nobody in the Senate argued.
"We're a national joke," said Sen. Malcolm Wallop, R-Wyo.
"Our countrymen are sick and tired of our farce," agreed Sen. Jim Sasser, D-Tenn.
"If there were a vote tonight, 535 of us and and the president would be out of work," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. a confession that drew the gallery's sardonic applause.
But never mind the embarrassed outbursts of self-vilification. Who are the real villains behind the Budget Horror Show? Try these suspects:
* Blame Congress. You bet. At 1:20 a.m. Friday, when the House voted down the original budget chimera, it was sheer terror of Nov. 6 elections, although almost every incumbent's job is safe. Now they have a ploy: "Turn the Silly Putty over to Rosty." Meaning, shovel the mess to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski's Ways and Means panel. More Budget Dirty Dancing.
* Blame George Bush. Why not? Bush's no-tax pledge was an easy lie that beguiled the public. Few believed his screeching U-turn. Bush's 10-minute TV quickie didn't prepare Americans for sacrifice. Some leadership. Many congressmen suspect Bush's lips were still lying.
* Blame Newt Gingrich. Come on, Neutron Newt is a cartoon, a political Big Bird who exists only on television. Except for five right-wing pals, he's cloutless.
* Blame divided government. Why lay this mess on the Founding Fathers? Ike and Nixon had Democratic Congresses. They got budgets. You want one-party government, try Iraq.
* Blame Ronald Reagan. Sure. Reagan's fantasy -- more missiles, a greased ride for the rich, and nobody pays the bills -- begat the Credit Card Generation. Senate leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said Monday night, "This is the bitter harvest for a self-indulgent decade." But Reagan alone didn't run up the $3 trillion deficit. Democratic hogs joined the wallow.
So yes, it's easy to sneer at Washington pols as overpaid, feckless clowns. But they aren't the only culprits in this budget fandango. To quote Pogo Possum, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
Look at CBS' polls: 65 percent against the budget (meaning taxes), but 68 percent against cutting federal services. What killed the first, flawed budget were voices -- senior citizens, truckers, farmers -- screaming at congressfolk over phones: "It's unfair! It stinks!"
Cowed politicians are caught in our contradictions. Give us big government, little pain. Give us the good stuff -- Medicare, national parks, an army ready to rumble in the Middle East -- but don't raise gas taxes 10 cents.
It's not only Washington caught in paradoxical crossfire. Ask New Jersey Gov. Jim Florio, deafened by anti-tax fury, or mayors of nearly bankrupt Philadelphia and New York. The rise of ex-Klansman David Duke in Louisiana and populist John Silber in Massachusetts hints at subterranean race and class warfare.
The national deficit? Let the kids pay it. Who cares that the interest will soon be bigger than the Pentagon budget? Hell, we can borrow from the Germans and the Japanese.
Well, it's 12:30 a.m. The sheepish senators finally passed a phony budget. The government will stumble along a few days. A pill to postpone pain.
Give us more fairy tales. Tell us another bedtime story, George.
Pogo Possum was right.