WASHINGTON — Washington -- FOR 200 YEARS, we have been gloating over the wisdom our founding fathers displayed when they rejected a monarchy and opted for directly elected political leadership instead.
Occasionally a social snob bemoans our lack of royal pomp and pageantry, but we have always resolutely believed the absence of a hereditary king or queen made for a more democratic government.
Here we are, detached bystanders a whole ocean away from the most historically dramatic scandal of the decade. We're missing all the action!
No mere president with a roving eye can possibly compete for sheer theatrical impact with the tacky, emotional and self-destructive soap opera being acted out in public by Great Britain's royal family.
It is something that our national dignity is intact. The founding fathers saved us from the Brits' spectacular humiliation.
By contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton look positively sedate. The American presidency, although always under fire and sometimes occupied by fools, is in no danger of collapse.
The British monarchy, however, is reeling. The latest outrage is an authorized biography of Prince Charles, who has suffered an embarrassing identity crisis waiting for his aging mother, Queen Elizabeth, to abdicate and end her 42-year reign.
Charles at 45 comes across as a spineless, self-absorbed fellow who feels abused by his separated wife, Princess Diana; his parents; his privileged existence; and his own behavior. This is a disturbed man more in need of a hug than a throne.
These revelations follow the prince's televised confession of infidelity, Diana's denial of a sordid account of an alleged affair with her former riding instructor, her alleged anonymous telephone harassment of another male friend, accusations of a palace conspiracy against Diana, reports of Diana's bulimia, attempted suicides and bouts of depression, and transcripts of steamy taped phone conversations from both Charles and Diana to others.
In wake of this, the unthinkable is being thought. For the first time in living memory, both politicians and the public talk seriously about drastically downplaying the monarchy's role, if not actually eliminating it altogether. The traditional high esteem in which the royal family has been held has sharply declined. The mystique is gone, and so is the majesty.
The queen, wealthy beyond belief, has been forced to respond to this rising unpopularity by trimming back her financial demands on her subjects. She is paying for a portion of the rebuilding of fire-damaged Windsor Castle herself.
A tighter budget for the royal household is also ahead; a House of Commons committee recently probed the queen's lavish expenditures and complained of sloppy bookkeeping and routine wastefulness with taxpayers' money.
Until its dysfunctional relationships became public property, the British monarchy was the most admired and secure of all the world's dwindling crowns.
Other royal families were confined to harmless ceremonial functions and lived almost ordinary lives, except for titles and castle residences. But the British were treated as special, as befitting the empire that once was.
Marianne Means is a syndicated columnist.