Let 'em eat photo ops


WASHINGTON'S serenity is amazing. What do these Bush people take? They'd faint if offered pills or smoke, and you can't get Peruna anymore unless you know somebody with a great cellar.

So how do they manage to stay way out in space treating the wrack and ruin with this magnificently cool indifference?

Whole states are going broke, cities bankrupt, booming unemployment -- boy, there's a dull word -- and Washington's response?

Jim dandy, double-peachy photo ops: president at Mount Rushmore. President at good, old-fashioned, salt-of-earth, Middle Western Fourth of July parade. President saluting heroes of gulf war. President setting up 10-second spots for next year's Monster Battle of TV Commercials, a.k.a. the 1992 presidential campaign.

Should the feds do something about the wrack and ruin? Sure, but you can bet this crowd won't. They hate domestic problems. Press them about people sleeping in the streets or 34 million Americans without medical care, and they talk public-relations cant about "points of light."

Besides, refusing to concede that domestic problems should concern them is justified by the wisdom of the philosopher Reagan. "Government is the problem," he declared. George ("Read My Lips") Bush hews faithfully to this Gipperesque principle, and with sound reason.

It was the federal government that led the states, cities and counties into the present pickle. They used to get back a lot of the money their voters sent to Washington. Then, obedient to Reagan philosophy ("government is the problem"), Washington adopted a new policy. Basically, it said, "Your buck stops here."

The theory was that once you sent your buck to Washington, it became a government buck. And since government was the problem, terrible things would result if any fragment of this tainted money got back to its source. People would get hooked on good schools, fancy police work, clean water and such.

The government buck had to be disinfected, as it were, to prevent it from infesting the country. So it was sent to the Pentagon, which used it to buy goods for countries like Panama and Iraq, where its evil effects wouldn't matter much, since they needed to be taught a lesson anyhow.

Still the problem that government had caused long before Reagan made everyone see the light was gnawing at the national vitals. States, cities, towns, counties had become dangerously accustomed to getting their tainted bucks passed back.

So when Washington said, "The buck stops here, for your own good," the states, the cities, the towns and the counties were not altogether sincere when they said, "Mighty art thou, O Gipper and O Bush, and we thank thee for not burdening us with the terrible problem-causing buck which we have rendered unto thee."

(All right, governments don't speak such language, but wouldn't they be more lovable if they did?)

Why were they not altogether sincere? Because if the buck stopped in Washington, they couldn't replace it with the buck necessary to keep state, city, town and county voters contented unless they raised state, city, town or county taxes. Disaster! Because Reagan and Bush, preaching hellfire against evil government, had persuaded people that tax-raisers must be destroyed.

The states et al. had to avoid raising taxes without cutting services taxpayers demanded. In short, they had to pass a miracle once Washington, having decided that domestic governance was bad for people, got out of the business and turned it over to states, cities, towns and counties.

The end of all this is predictable: Hordes of governors, mayors and county supervisors will be voted out of business in 1992. At the same time the usual 95 to 98 percent of Congress and President Bush will enjoy re-election, on ground that by doing nothing about the wrack and ruin they are saving us from that awful government that is the problem.

All right, much of this is ham-handed irony. I don't apologize. Stating some of the truly silly arguments conservatives invoke to explain why "government is the problem," such as the theory that welfare breeds unemployment, would make me indictable for high-school sarcasm.

In Washington there are people who believe such stuff, those cool, cool, serenely re-electable Washington cats.

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