Let's say you are up to your eyeballs in debt. But you want to spend less and have a more frugal lifestyle. Seeking advice, you decide to consult a financial expert.
So a brief quiz: What kind of penny-pinching expert would you go to? (Pick one.)
1. A certified public accountant.
2. A Polish cleaning lady.
3. A wild and crazy playboy.
If you picked 1 or 2, you are a normal, clear-thinking, rational person.
If you picked 3, you might consider running for president of the United States some day.
As you may have heard, President Clinton has vowed to hunt down waste and sloth in the federal government. Our money will no longer be frittered away.
In making this dramatic announcement, he said: "We'll challenge the basic assumptions of every program. Does it work? Does it provide quality service? Does it encourage innovation and reward hard work? We intend to redesign, to reinvent, to reinvigorate the entire national government."
That's a pretty good idea, although it isn't original. Every April 15, millions of Americans have the same thought, although they might phrase it a bit more luridly.
And if Clinton fulfills this promise, the whole country will owe him a standing ovation. (Except for those bureaucrats who would suddenly find themselves in the cruel world of private enterprise.)
But I'm puzzled by Clinton's choice for the person to lead this crusade against waste and inefficiency: Vice President Albert Gore.
Not that Gore isn't a fine young man -- energetic, intelligent, polite and well-scrubbed.
However, in choosing someone for any job, you should consider the person's background. And Gore, for all of his qualities, doesn't seem suited for this chore.
When he was only 28 -- a mere lad, by political standards -- he was elected to Congress. And that's where he was -- eight years in the House and eight in the Senate -- until Clinton made him his Tonto.
That means Gore has spent most of his adult life as a member of Congress. But even earlier, he knew his way around that zoo because his father was in Congress for 32 years. At an age when other kids were collecting baseball cards, Gore could name the members of the Lobbyists Hall of Fame.
As a political writer put it, Congress "became the family business."
The trouble is, Congress isn't a business and it isn't run like one. If it were a business, it would have been bankrupt long ago and all of its members would be homeless street people.
What Congress is best known for, especially in modern times, is spending other people's money. And when it's out of money, it runs a tab. There isn't another group of people in the world who can spend money as avidly as Congress. If money were sex, they'd all weigh 90 pounds and would be on life-support systems.
Now Clinton expects Gore, who voted on billions of dollars in programs, to poke his head into government offices and say: "My goodness, what are all you people doing here?"
And he's supposed to go to his and his father's former cronies and say: "Boys, the old pork barrel days are over. No more grants to study the mating habits of gerbils, sleeping habits of cockroaches, or the life span of a blueberry bush. No more money for research into the dining habits of pigs. And not another $58 million in tax breaks to bail out George Steinbrenner. Honest, guys, the party's over."
Sure he will. And I will slam dunk over Michael Jordan.
No, it is a slick public relations gesture, and nothing more. Somebody in the White House must have noticed the proliferation of bumper stickers that say, "It's the spending, stupid." So they decided it was time for a news conference about stalking the hated waste-beast and shooting it dead. And reinventing, reinvigorating and the other blah-blah about shrinking government.
They even installed an 800 number so ordinary citizens can call some bureaucrats with ideas for cutting bureaucratic costs. Sure, the average guy is sitting around Peoria, studying the federal budget.
If Clinton wasn't such a kidder, he'd trot that little Stephanopoulos fellow down Connecticut Avenue to the offices of the Citizens Against Waste and pick up the latest copy of their annual "Pig Book."
As the group said in its news release about congressional gluttony: "Some of the projects highlighted in this year's 'Pig Book' include a pair of bike paths in affluent North Miami Beach costing taxpayers $800,000; two movie theaters in Savannah, Ga., renovated for a cool $2 million; $15 million for the 'preservation and restoration' of Egyptian antiquities; and another $13 million for Pennsylvania's 'Steamtown,' a Scranton tourist trap of dubious historical significance."
If Clinton were serious about this, he wouldn't be asking Gore to overcome a lifetime addiction to spending other people's money and suddenly become a nickel-biter.
And those are items Congress considers mere baubles. The bigger ticket items -- the billions for a useless space station and the super collider -- have already been declared untouchable by Gore.
If Clinton were serious about this, he wouldn't be asking Gore to overcome a lifetime addiction to spending other people's money and suddenly become a nickel-biter. That kind of sudden detox could put him into shock. He could end up in the Betty Ford Clinic, pleading: "Get rid of my shakes and I swear I'll never spend another nickel."
Instead, he'd bring in outsiders. This country has no shortage of hard-eyed businessmen and executives who know how to shrink a budget. Many would relish an opportunity to shrink a bureaucracy that has caused so much shrinkage in their own businesses.
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Gore will be transformed into a fiscal hit man and in a few months will zap billions in waste.
Sure. And maybe with bouncy new shoes, I really can dunk over Jordan.