Washington knows no fury like a tourist scorned, and on Columbus Day the city rocked with the rage of sightseers turned away from the Washington Monument and the Smithsonians.

Why? After nine months of fingerpointing and politicking, the Congress had not yet passed its budget. So the federal government had to shut down.

Unfortunately for the politicians, the Capitol was still open. Twelve thousand tourists waited outside. Those who got in jammed the galleries, booing loudly when Congress adjourned to comittee sessions.

Later one group cornered a distinguished-looking man they thought was a congressman, angrily calling him a “dim bulb.” (He turned out to be a reporter.) Legislators cowered in their offices.

The message was clear: watch out, Mr. and Ms. Congressperson. You have dithered and dallied long enough. You have allowed the federal deficit to swell to a mind-numbing $293.7 billion; you have allowed the S & L crisis to land in the wallets of ordinary taxpayers; you have stalled the legislative agenda. About the only thing you have managed is to vote yourselves pay raises and get yourselves re-elected.

Was it not the privilege of the ruling elite that led irate Parisians to storm the Bastille 200 years ago? If those Washington tourists on Columbus Day weekend had been armed with pikes rather than maps of the closed Smithsonians, we might have had a bloodbath.

Limousines On Parade

I came to Washington as a Senate aide in 1956, and never have I seen an uglier public mood. It threatens our system—if not from the revolt of citizens sick of red ink and thirsting for blood, then from apathy, which saps the vitality of our democratic process.

The current crisis began last January when President Bush offered a ...

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