MY MEETING WITH THE TOOTH FAIRY » 13 Oct 1990 » The Spectator Archive (2024)

13 OCTOBER 1990, Page 13


James Bowman .finds that

Americans are not blaming the President

for the economic disaster Washington YOU couldn't get into the Washington Monument on Sunday. National Park em- ployees were not being paid because the government had run out of (borrowed) money. But the Tooth Fairy was there to make it better. Determined to show that not all federal employees were indifferent to the tourists' frustrations, she had put on her tooth fairy costume and come down to the Monument from suburban Virginia to give the sightseers a thrill. It seemed appropriate that her twee romantic optim- ism should be filling in for patriotic gravitas on this occasion. A dejected troop of Boy Scouts from New Jersey were hanging about the barred entrance, wondering what to do next. They didn't take much notice of the TF, who occupied the end of the nearest bench and handed out leaflets. These advertised the availability of Phyllis A. Rawls, doing business as 'The Tooth Fairy Princess', for business exhibits, con- ventions, hospitals, nursing homes, birth- day parties, bazaars, schools and charities. She noticed the Scouts, however, and wondered aloud if she could make it up to them by allowing them to pitch their tents in her back garden. 'I'm not protesting anything,' she told me hastily: in Washing- ton a plump, middle-aged woman sitting outside one of the city's monuments, wear- ing a tiara and a wedding dress with wings sewn onto the back of it, would naturally be assumed to be making some political point. 'I'm just letting people know that there's another America, an America that cares.'

The America that doesn't care is not so easy to find as the caring Tooth Fairy. Even the aggrieved tourists I spoke to were reluctant to name a personal villain. They knew only that there were a bunch of `politicians' in Washington, up with whom they were fed, who had heartlessly shut the Boy Scouts out of the Washington Monu- ment on a gloriously summery October Sunday. And they were inclined to suspect that these politicians were to be found to the east, in the Capitol, rather than to the north, in the White House — this even though they did not hold it against George Bush that he had, the day before, vetoed a resolution of Congress to keep government running for a few more days while negotia- tions over the budget deficit continued.

Now the Scouts wandered back down the Mall where two or three touch football games were in progress, frisbees were sailing in the breeze and several 'Aids quilts', each patch in the patchwork com- memorating a victim of the disease, were spread out on the grass between the monuments of democracy. The merry-go- round opposite the Smithsonian Museum (also closed) was doing a lively trade: `Carousel rides still only 75 cents'. A highly amplified recording of a steam calliope played 'Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon'.

Back on the hillock where the obelisk to the Father of His Country pokes at the sky, the wind was whipping a circle of Amer- ican flags in the direction of the Treasury building. It turned out that the Tooth Fairy worked for the CIA as a secretary. Or she would have done if the Agency had let her, instead of insisting that she take sick leave. `I died three times in the emergency room,' she said. `All my internal organs were out of line and had to be re-fixed. When I came round I told my husband: "We're getting separated. And divorced. You can go and marry the NFL." ' By this time there was another man in the picture: the doctor who had saved her life. `Him I would marry. Now I'm on 13 different kinds of medication to keep my system in balance. If it weren't for him there's no way I could sit out here for so long without going to the bathroom. Of course,' she added sadly, 'the bathrooms are closed anyway.'

Her feat of endurance, like her arguing with the CIA about going back to work, was to show that not all federal employees were slackers, staying at home just because they weren't paid. `They can't keep me away,' she said, and I could well believe it. Now, although she had been waiting until Valentine's Day, her favourite day of the year, to make her debut as the Tooth Fairy, she felt that duty required her to cheer up visitors to the Monument.

As we sat on the bench, an oriental gentleman standing nearby with a camera heard her say that she held the registered trade mark as the United States Tooth Fairy Princess. He said: 'This is fantastic!

I'm a dentist and I've been looking for you all my life.' Then he crouched down beside her and put his arm around her while she held up her wand and his wife took a photo. Now the doctor was forgotten; the Tooth Fairy decided she'd rather marry the dentist, existing wife notwithstanding.

They were in town, they said, for two days on their way from their home near San Francisco to a dentists' convention in Boston. `Who do you blame,' said I, eschewing the accusative, 'for the fact that everything is closed down when you get here?' I don't suppose he had thought about it much. Most people I met on my stroll down the Mall that day would have had no strong opinion on the subject if they had not been directly affected as sight- seers. Out in the country in the week that the federal government came close to collapse the big topic of conversation on radio phone-in programmes was whether or not female reporters ought to be allowed into the locker rooms after profes- sional football matches. (Opinion was fair- ly evenly divided.) Nevertheless my dentist replied im- mediately: 'Congress is to blame. We should try not paying the Senate instead of this. Then maybe we'd get some new, young people — smart young people — in there. There are no statesmen in Congress any more. It's just a little gang that looks out for its own interests. Now they're trying to make Bush look bad. The media are saying it's all Bush's fault. But they haven't figured it out since April .

This was a typical view. No doubt there are people outside Washington who accept the conventional wisdom of the press and punditry that the budget crisis is all be- cause the country hasn't been taxed enough for the last ten years and that George Bush is belatedly admitting it. Some of them may even be dentists. But most people are wiser than that. They recognise that the problem was not voodoo economics but the kind of voodoo politics practised in a system in which no party can enforce fiscal discipline even upon its own members, let alone upon the government. As one congressman replied when asked why he voted both for every appropriations bill and for every tax-cutting bill: `Why shouldn't I?'

Likewise, you would think that the congressional leadership, having laboured mightily to produce even the little deficit cutting measure that it did and having seen it rejected by the House, would have resigned. But that's not the way we do things here. We're too nice. Just because a guy can't make a deal it doesn't mean he has to fall on his sword. Leadership is a matter of constant negotiation (the budget) and the occasional flash of inspirational rhetoric (the Gulf), but party discipline seems somehow un-American. And so the deficit goes on growing.

My Californian dentist, however, articu- lated a growing sentiment among taxpayers that they should not have to pay for it. 'It makes me mad', he went on, 'that they're always talking about "upper-income" ear- ners. They forget that people whose in- comes are above average haven't always been that way. We're not a privileged class. I started out poor. I had nothing.' He made a zero with his thumb and forefinger. `I worked for what I have. That's the American way. I tell you: I'm not political but I'm voting in November. And a lot of these people in Congress are not coming back.'

His wife scolded him for preaching, even though she agreed with him. He ignored her. When he noticed that I was writing down what he said, he took a photo of me. Then the Tooth Fairy said that she agreed too. 'I'm real proud of George Bush,' she said with the proprietary interest of one who used to work under him at the CIA. `I'll tell you one thing you don't see up here: you don't see any politicians. Have you ever seen them?' she said to her little knot of admirers, as if she were talking about ghosts or witches. 'They're all about 80 or 90 years old.'

A black girl, who held out a Virginia lottery ticket for the Tooth Fairy to rub with some of her magic, concurred in the general disparagement of 'politicians' — a class of people reckoned to include the ladies and gentlemen then sitting in ex- traordinary session at the other end of the Mall and being hooted at from the gallery, but not the President, who was weekend- ing at Camp David. All of those I spoke to on the Mall that day blamed Congress. One blamed Reagan for not doing any- thing about the Savings and Loan disaster in 1983. No one blamed Bush.

Not for the first time I wondered if the President quite appreciated his own advan- tage in the midst of this monumental co*ck-up. Or did he believe what he read in the papers? How interesting it would be if he decided to fight the election over the budget instead of cobbling together some wretched deal. But I decided that he would do what he subsequently did: make a deal, pretty much the same as the one that had been rejected, only with more concessions to the generous Democrats. He's too nice a guy to use all his strength against Congress, even if he knew he could win. But, then, that's one reason why he's so popular. Like the Tooth Fairy, he likes to show that he cares.

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