Different people have different ideas of Heaven. Will it feature, as one poet supposed, eating pa~te' de foie gras to the sound of trumpets? Perhaps. But for many Democrats, Heaven on Earth is watching George Bush eat his words to the sound of snickering from a cynical public that never thought he meant them.

The cynicism of high-level Republicans here is such that they are happily proclaiming (yes, proclaiming; yes, happily) that Bush's changed position regarding taxes, even if the change is real, will not do real political damage because most people assumed he was being cynical all along. And how do you suppose senior Republicans acquire such cynicism? Presidential leadership.

''Read My Lips -- I lied,'' roared the New York Post, aflame with a rage altogether as bogus as Bush's too-tricky-by-half statement on taxes. Bush can neither speak effectively nor keep silent with dignity, so he made his carefully crafted, and crafty, tax statement in a terse (three paragraphs) written message. It was dropped into the press corps like a scrap of wastepaper furtively discarded on a street by a litterer with just enough conscience to be uneasy about littering but not enough conscience not to litter.

This method of communicating his message did nothing to make the message seem candid, which even a cursory reading reveals it not to be. Disdaining the leadership task of explaining himself, he said only that the statement ''speaks for itself.'' Indeed it does, loudly and damningly.

From sea to shining sea the press took the bait. The Washington Post headline said Bush ''calls for new taxes.'' The Los Angeles Times said he ''backs a tax increase.'' Never have so many fat trout been hooked on such a small fly. And Democrats, allowing their wish to be the father of their thoughts, also read Bush's statement as saying what it ostentatiously does not say.

It says ''it is clear to me'' that deficit reduction requires, in addition to spending cuts, ''tax revenue increases.'' Democrats, who were busy demanding that Bush include the words ''to me,'' evidently did not notice the labored nature of the locution ''tax revenue increases.'' Such language signals a refusal to use other language. In this case the eschewed words are ''tax increase.''

Clearly ''tax revenue increases'' can refer to increased yields from existing taxes as a result of economic growth; or the billions Bush anticipates (as Dukakis did) from improved enforcement of existing taxes; or a short-term spurt of revenues from a cut in the capital-gains tax.

Republicans are panicked by the tax issue, as a Democratic operative understands: ''A lot of Republicans are going to have to wake up tomorrow and find another reason for running for office.'' Many Republicans are reassuring themselves that Bush has not said anything new, or that he is, with admirable deviousness, misleading everyone. Republicans are so dependent on taxaphobia for their political identity, they are telling one another that Bush is a cynic.

John Sununu, Bush's Doberman, who flaunts his cynicism so that his employer's will be less noticeable, told some Republicans that Bush has not committed himself to anything new. Rep. Newt Gingrich, the Republican whip, says ''{Bush} very explicitly didn't say 'raise taxes.' He said 'seek new revenue,' '' so Bush's statement ''didn't represent significant change in Republican policy.''

George Mitchell, Democratic leader in the Senate, insists that Sununu did not mean what he said and that Bush said what he clearly did not say. Mitchell says Bush endorsed ''tax increases'' in a ''clear and unambiguous statement.'' Mitchell has just written a book. Let us hope, for the sake of belles-lettres, that Mitchell is a better writer than reader.

Given the signals of cynicism sent by Bush, Sununu and Gingrich, and so avidly seized upon by grateful Republicans, sensible Democrats assume Bush's statement is designed to lull Democrats into proposing tax increases. At that point Bush will deny -- accurately if not honorably -- that he never said such a thing.

Democratic realists think the press, by misreading Bush's statement, may force him to mean what he flinched from saying. But if Bush does not propose a tax increase, Democrats will sit mute until he does. And if he does, his only political idea -- taxes are icky -- will be nullified.

If he does not, the deficit-reduction process will pit Democrats emphasizing defense cuts against Republicans emphasizing entitlement cuts: tanks against wheelchairs, closing military bases or closing rural hospitals. And Bush probably cannot have the grand passion of his life, a capital-gains cut, without proposing an increase in the income-tax rate for the rich.

In Heaven, 'tis said, all will be made plain. How tiresome. If everything is made plain, what will there be to talk about? Such a Heaven sounds hellish. For now, in Washington, nothing is clear, except that cynicism is realism.