Trying to make sense of the news is always a feckless business, but seldom more so than in recent days. Everything seems out of sync; all the signals are mixed. In the immortal words of the cub reporter, explaining to his grizzled city editor why he failed to write a line after being sent to cover the big fire, "All was confusion."
On one day, the House rejects strong appeals from the president and for the first time since World War II denies a chief executive production of a major weapon, the MX missile, that he deems necessary for America's defense and thus survival. It is far too costly, many of the solons say.
The next day, the same body of the people's representatives overwhelmingly rejects attempts to cut back funds for big bombers, nuclear carriers and missile research and development. It approves the largest amount of peacetime spending for defense in America's history.
On the eve of those votes, the president makes an impassioned plea to House members to back his wishes in getting his MX missile program passed. He uses the analogy of Pearl Harbor. According to congressmen present, he says World War II in many respects began because we didn't have a very effective deterrent with regard to the Japanese.
That, of course, is a complete misreading of history. The Japanese knew they could never win a war in the Pacific while the great U.S. fleet remained intact. They therefore took their historic gamble and approved the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in hopes they could remove the American deterrent, nicely nestled in one convenient harbor, with one sudden strike.
After the president loses the MX vote in Congress, it is disclosed that a majority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, representing the nation's professional military leadership, had opposed the administration's idea for deploying that missile system, all neatly placed together in a "Dense Pack" formation in Wyoming.
A day later, the president puts out the word that the chiefs unanimously support his Dense Pack plan. "They did agree that if this was the method I chose, they would be in support of it," he says, which one would certainly expect to be the case under the present form of government requiring the uniformed military services to defer to the elected civilian leader who holds constitutional authority over the final national security decision-making process.
While all these twists and turns are being duly reported, the capital finds its attention diverted by another of those episodes that defy reason and occur all too frequently in our media age.
A pathetic man threatens to blow up the Washington Monument, inflicting damage, and quite likely casualties, over a wide area. His threats of violence, trumpeted live and in color into the nation's homes and offices courtesy of the electronic handmaidens that inevitably accompany such events, are carried out in the cause of peace. The man wants to ban the bomb and employs this method of achieving it. Supposedly, he is willing to blow things up to make his point.
He winds up shot to death and turns out to have had no weapons, no dynamite, no accomplices.
His approach to nonviolence makes about as much sense as the president calling the deadly MX missile "Peacekeeper."
But if these news developments only add to the overall state of confusion, current headlines involving one area of public concern have been all too consistent. When it comes to proposing ways to deal with the poor and infirm in this season of economic distress and supposed good cheer, this administration proceeds straight on course.
From the memorable Thanksgiving Day news that the administration was considering a plan to help the unemployed by taxing jobless benefits, the record of recent days remains uniform.
The tax-the-out-of-work-benefits scheme was followed by one to tax employes' medical benefits. It, in turn, came accompanied by reports of plans for slicing 20 percent of the workers employed at the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control. To help that process, the National Institutes of Health would be required to start charging room and board to patients at its research center in Bethesda, and the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administrations would be dismantled.
Last Saturday, it was reported the administration is thinking of cutting a program that helps pay the heating bills of the poor. Just as winter nears, naturally. If administration budget-cutters have their way, they will slash about one-third from that expected congressional grant.
On Wednesday, another front-page story detailed more specifics on how the new Reagan budget proposals would cut sharply into national health programs. Both Medicare and Medicaid benefits would be slashed in the next fiscal year. Medicaid, the program to help poor people meet their health bills, would be cut by about $2.6 billion.
Thursday brought word of plans for deep cuts in federal aid to St. Elizabeths Hospital, a mental institution the U.S. government administers here in the nation's capital. If approved, they would result in a 50 percent reduction in the patient load within three years and a sharp decline in psychiatric care for inpatients. Among other patients currently housed there is the man who shot our current president.
All of these holiday tidings presumably are leading up to the annual Christmas Day news bulletin. Although tight security surrounds those plans, speculation centers on two possible proposals. It's widely believed they're going to bring back the debtor's prison and reinstitute the almshouse.
Come back, Charles Dickens. This particular season is really made for your pen.