The District of Columbia, being a federal greensward and protectorate, swills plenty at the government trough. There's never a recession here nor the urge to stop hatching spending schemes. Lately, the money's run short, so the citizenry is being gouged with a fistful of new taxes. One of the most imbecile is the tax on anything that smacks of sugar.

Now, food is not taxed in the District. But in the new rage to tax and satisfy Puritan lusts as well, candy, soft drinks, confectionery items and chewing gum are taxed at eight cents on the dollar. The rationale is that these pleasures can be harmful to the health, and therefore are bad.

However, the D.C. Gauleiters proclaimed in their new law that such joys as ice cream, jams, jellies, syrups, honey, cookies (however sugar-coated) and caramel and chocolate (if used for cooking) are pure and good and therefore shall not be taxed.

Therefore, a simple twist of licorice, though its sugar content is 3 percent, is considered virtual contraband, and is taxed. Sugar-drenched ice cream is regarded as wholesome, and isn't taxed. Cereals, when prepared in candied or confectionery form, are sinful, but the run of sugar-coated breakfast stuff is not. Dust a peanut or raisin with sugar or chocolate and you pay 8 percent tax. Even a diet drink demands this tax.

Now, there is nothing intrinsically evil in sugar, any more than there is, say, in chicken fat or lobster tails. Make a glutton out of yourself with any of these edibles and you ask for trouble. But in recent years, sugar has been the target of the bluenoses who blame it for everything from eczema to falling hair. Sugar (sucrose) holds no such dangers, of course, but many of those social preachers wanting to exorcise sugar also believe that the world is flat.

Across the republic, a dozen states tax confectionery items, but exempt all other foods. Recently, the Connecticut legislature voted down a serious proposal to tax frozen pies and sugar-coated doughnuts and cereals. A dozen states ponder the worth of levying a special tax on soft drinks, thus elevating them to the evil level of beer.

A good deal of the direction in this crusade against sucrose comes from Carol T. Foreman, assistant secretary of agriculture, whose order will shut down certain snack-food vending this fall in those schools benefiting from lunch subsidies. Any schoolmaster caught selling water ices, soda pops, candy-covered popcorn, marshmallows, chewing gum or certain candies during the lunch hour will have his federal food bucks yanked.

Now, a taste of sweet is no more harmful than a taste of anything else. It is the excessive ingestion of sweets than can cause misery. But Puritans always tax pleasure, so sugar is getting it. Why not tax filet mignon or caviar?

Similarly, can't the ordinary soul decide what's good for him or his charges? It should be the schoolmaster who has the courage to rid his halls of the sugar habit, not the feds. And it should be parents, not a taxing body, who inform their kinder that there will be no sugar orgies on their premises. In my home, the youngsters were told sternly there would be no Frosty Loops, Fruity Pebbles or Body Buddies on the breakfast table, nor would Mallopuffs or Moon Pies be served for dessert.

Moderation is the rational approach to any field of human endeavor, eating included. However, lawmakers here -- and elsewhere apparently -- grounded in American Puritanism, shall always find the accused substance and tax it. Some grocers here are puzzled with this latest D.C. tax. Certain canned juices are not half juice, and therefore are taxed. Some cupcakes look like they came out of a sugar refinery and are not taxed.

This anti-sweet tax is comic, but so is another one here: If you go to the circus, you pay a special tax because non-human performers like elephants are present, and they are not good. But if you go to a play and see live human beings, you don't pay tax. Established: that human beings are superior to elephants.