Where have all the grown-ups gone? Off to Toyland, every one.
The economy is in free fall, with Congress on the way to approving a budget approaching $4 trillion, just when we were getting accustomed to thinking in terms of billions, not mere millions. Some of us still stop to pick up a penny on the sidewalk, but who in Congress would stoop to pick up a mere million dollars? Congressmen must protect their dignity, after all.
Nobody any longer wants our dollars, and there's talk among the Lilliputians at the United Nations of inventing a replacement for the dollar in international trading. The president of the European Union says American remedies for the global recession will only pave the road to hell. Even some of our illegal aliens, who once dreamed of green cards and streets of gold, are splitting for home. All that ought to make even senators pay attention.
Orrin Hatch, the one-time reliably conservative senator from Utah, is fresh from taking a bite out of the Constitution, trying to give his homeboys an extra member of Congress in return for expanding the union of states to mere municipalities. This would accommodate a representative for the District of Columbia, which barely functions as a city. Moving on to something else to occupy his time, the senator now wants Congress to organize a playoff of college football teams so the University of Utah can get a decent bowl game. Maybe an extra seat in the House of Representatives and a trip to the Sugar Bowl is the least the nation can do to appease the Mormons for not sending Mitt Romney to the White House.
Meanwhile, the bad guys in Tehran are determined to measure us and our friends for shrouds, or at least burkhas. The president, back home after paying tribute to the Special Olympics and yukking it up with Jay Leno, is packing his bags and loading his teleprompter for his long-awaited Friendship, Fawning and Groveling Tour of the Middle East, to reassure the mullahs that any misunderstanding between us is certainly our fault well, not his, actually, but certainly "ours."
Plain speech in Toyland is definitely out. The Pentagon has been told the War on Terror is over not that we've won it yet, but that we've moved on to something called an "Overseas Contingency Operation." Speechwriters have been told that "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT]."
The phrasemakers at the Pentagon considered several other catchy names for the war on terror, and considered GSAVE, for "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism." Donald Rumsfeld, the battered secretary of defense for George W. Bush, even used "GSAVE" once or twice. The Pentagon always prefers acronyms, particularly when no one can pronounce them. But it's hard to imagine Tolstoy calling his novel "GSAVE and Peace," or that the old firebug Sherman would observe that "GSAVE is hell." But they never had to work in Toyland.
Not all the citizens of Toyland are Americans.
Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian prime minister, is in trouble in Rome again for brushing off a comparison of himself and Barack Obama with incorrect humor. "I'm paler," he said, "because it's been so long since I went sunbathing. He's more handsome, younger and taller."
All true, of course, and hardly an insult. But the Grievance Society, a suburb of Toyland, has expanded worldwide, and the Gaffe Patrol often targets Rome. The Finnish government once called in the Italian ambassador to demand to know what Signor Berlusconi meant when he said he uses his "playboy tactics" to deal with Tarja Halonen, the dishy president of Finland. (Madame President probably could have explained it to her Foreign Office; it wasn't like Signor Berlusconi pinched her.)
But America is the Toyland that matters most, and it's Mr. Obama's government and the Congress that offend most. Trillions of paper dollars are falling like snow on the economies of the world, a trade war is threatened over carbon emissions, and the only thing scarier than the Treasury secretary's dithering is the revelation of his latest scheme to organize the economy so it can't ever be fixed. You can't blame the rest of the world for coming down with the jitters and heebie-jeebies.
"As an aghast world watches," writes Terence Corcoran in the London Daily Telegraph, "the circus-like U.S. political system seems to be declining into near chaos. Through it all, stock and financial markets are paralyzed. The more the policy regime does, the worse the outlook gets. The multi-ringed spectacle raises a disturbing question in many minds: Is this the end of America."
Well, no, of course not. The rest of the world actually knows that America is too big to fail. What would be left?
Will Rogers got it almost right eight decades ago: "Why pay to go to the circus when you can watch Congress for free?" But a circus, like Toyland, is for the children.