WASHINGTON -- President Bush, on his latest campaign swing through the Midwest, told a crowd of Republican faithful in Omaha, Neb.: "Oh, how nice it is to be out where the real people are, outside of Washington, D.C."
It was, no doubt unwittingly, an admission that he himself is not one of "the real people," since he has spent nearly all of his adult life in Washington or in its service, in a series of jobs on the public payroll that would be the envy of any federal pension-accumulating bureaucrat.
In a sense, however, setting himself aside from the much-maligned seat of government is in keeping with Bush's approach to the presidency regarding the deficit-reduction fight going on in Congress. He has been largely content to sit on the sidelines criticizing the players -- the Democratic players, that is -- while they have been diligently laboring to achieve a solution.
In the process, Bush is conveniently exempting the worst culprits -- the House members of his own Republican Party led by House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich, defiantly bucking his own president as he clings to the discredited supply-side pipe dream that the country can grow out of the deficit.
At a time when cooling partisan criticism could help achieve a bipartisan agreement on reducing the deficit, Bush has zestfully yielded to the call of the campaign trail, on which he has always felt more comfortable and unrestrained than in dealing with Democratic legislative leaders.
On the stump, he discards the nuances and lambastes all Democrats as irresponsible taxers-and-spenders, while continuing to embrace the Ronald Reagan legacy of borrow-and-spend, which contributes mightily to the budget deficit.
A president is the leader of his party, and one of Bush's duties is to do what he can to elect more Republicans to Congress and state offices. But what a president, Republican or Democratic, says on the campaign trail has proved over the years to be of considerably less importance to his party and its candidates than the money he raises by his mere presence at fund-raising events.
There is something disingenuous about a president jetting around the country haranguing Congress for not doing its job while the members of Congress of both parties are pinned down in Washington wrestling with the budget-deficit problem about which he has so conspicuously washed his hands.
But he clearly has political dues to pay. He already is in the GOP doghouse for abandoning his no-new-taxes pledge and then sending mixed signals to congressional Republicans about where he stands on deficit reduction, as they struggle to find safe political ground less than three weeks before they face the voters.
Bush, who on the first compromise tax bill asked voters to forgive members of Congress voting for the additional taxes in it, has now abandoned a leadership role and knuckled under to the puffed-up Gingrich and his fellow-naysayers, while picking up the old tax-and-spend rallying cry against the Democrats.
After having tried to work with him, the Democrats have decided to behave like Democrats, noting that the Reagan tax policies have benefited the rich at the expense of the poor and middle class, and moving to rectify the imbalance.
Bush's bullheaded insistence on a capital-gains tax cut, and his resistance to removal of the infamous "bubble" in the tax code that gives the super-affluent a 28 percent income tax rate compared with the top rate of 33 percent, made him duck soup for the Democrats' resurrection of the charge that the GOP is the party of the rich.
House Minority Leader Bob Michel, an eminently reasonable man overshadowed in the current situation by the bluster of Gingrich, his supposed leadership lieutenant, and frustrated by a Republican president who declines to lead in any hands-on way, is said to be beside himself.
The big question now is who gets the blame if Bush shuts down the government again this weekend. He is counting on voters believing that the impasse is all "their" fault -- those Washington insiders with whom he has no connection, in spite of a lifetime of living and working among them, most recently from the best address in town.
Correction: Yesterday's column incorrectly gave the office held by Baron Hill of Indiana. He is a state representative.
Columinist Germond and Witcover,members of the Evening 7 Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective section of the Sunday B Sun