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Read Their Lips: Americans ‘Plumb Fed Up’ With the District of Contempt

October 25, 1990

MESQUITE, Texas (AP) _ Retired sheet metal worker Ben McAbee knows politics is rarely pretty. But lately, he says, what’s been going on in Washington has been downright disgusting.

″I think people are getting plumb fed up with it,″ McAbee said.

From California, where 20-year-old Monique Osborne said simply, ″I think it’s way bad,″ to Maryland, where Vincent Broco described the U.S. government as a ″circus,″ anti-Washington sentiment is running deeper than the deficit.

In Tampa, there’s a group called ″Throw the Rascals Out.″ Radio call-in shows across the country hear strong anti-Washington sentiments. The Albuquerque (N.M.) Tribune set up a phone line for readers who want to complain. Newspaper ads have suggested that all incumbents be tossed overboard.

The showdown over a new budget between Congress and President Bush has been about as popular as Roseanne Barr’s rendition of the National Anthem. The District of Columbia is now the District of Contempt.

″They would have to clean Washington right out completely and start over,″ said Don Hart, who was running errands Wednesday in downtown Traverse City, Mich. ‴Disgusted’ isn’t the word. ‘Mad’ would be a better one.″

Many everyday Americans interviewed around the country this week said they were following the budget battle closely, and didn’t like what they saw. From Bush on down, no one appeared immune to wrath. Politicians’ performances seem to have gotten worse over the years, people said, and this year is the worst yet.

″I’m pretty upset about it actually,″ said Neil Tucker, a 34-year-old commercial real estate broker in Baltimore. ″We elect these people to represent us and they’re more concerned with their special interests and getting re-elected than voting their convictions.″

″I blame leadership,″ Tucker added. ″I blame the people in Congress. They’re all basically a bunch of jokers.″

″I’m not going to vote for a single incumbent,″ said Tomas Martinez, a New Mexico state government clerk who lives in Albuquerque. ″I think it’s time to give others a chance. ... Maybe they’ll think more like a consumer, like a taxpayer, rather than remaining in office feathering their own nest.″

Polls show public confidence in government is at a two-decade low, and Bush’s approval ratings at their lowest levels of his presidency.

Congress’ approval ratings are even lower - a Newsweek poll found 52 percent would be willing to fire the whole Congress. And a recent ABC News/ Washington Post poll found a record 79 percent of those surveyed said the country is on the wrong track.

″They’ve got no respect for us and we’ve got no respect for them,″ said farmer David Guise, who runs a fruit stand outside Dallas. ″It’s a helluva mess. Washington has got too many millionaires in there, and they don’t care about the working man.″

″As far as pointing fingers, I think it’s everybody’s fault,″ said Art McArdle, who administers a surveyor’s apprenticeship program in Oakland, Calif. ″It’s an appalling situation. I think the problem is they’ve known that this was going to happen and they didn’t take the bull by the horns soon enough.″

″Yes, I’m following it,″ construction worker Gary King in Des Moines, Iowa, said of the budget battle. ″I’ve been following it for 12 years and it seems like it always falls on the working-class man. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.″

At the Diplomat Mall in Hallandale, Fla., a senior-dominated Broward County city, Laura Goldman said: ″We’re all watching it. Look, we’re on fixed incomes. They’re talking about increasing the cost of Medicare? They should decrease it.

″I don’t think it will ever be straightened out. I have grandchildren, and I worry about that budget deficit for them.″

Larry Nusbaum, an artist displaying his acrylics on the Santa Fe, N.M., plaza, blamed the American people more than Congress or Bush for the budget fiasco. The public makes so many conflicting demands on the federal government, he said.

Nusbaum said his opinion of Congress ″wasn’t very high to begin with, but I can understand their dilemma.″

″It’s not Congress, it’s us. They receive the messages from us. We get the government that we deserve. You can blame the government all you want to, and that doesn’t cut the cake,″ Nusbaum said.

Tax increases expected in the new budget are a particular sore spot.

McAbee, the Texas retiree who sells handmade pillows and quilts from a roadside stand, complained that the rich should shoulder a heavier burden. Increasing cigarette, gasoline and beer taxes will hit the working-class hard, he said.

″They didn’t tax wine because that’s what they drink,″ McAbee said. ″But some poor bastard who has to buy gasoline to drive to work and have a cold beer when he gets home, they’re going to tax him to death.″

″It’s politics,″ said Hart in Traverse City, Mich. ″We don’t have any statesmen anymore. All we have is politicians.″


EDITOR’S NOTE - This story also was reported by Mike Glover in Des Moines, Iowa; Ed Moreno in Santa Fe, N.M.; John Roll in Baltimore; Dan Sewell in Miami; Paige St. John in Traverse City, Mich.; and Kathleen Grubb in Sacramento, Calif.

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