J. C. Penney advertises pink spiked wigs for men. Over at the perfume counter, Decadence begets Obsession begets Poison. Across the pond, and on a somewhat different moral plane, an ex-Nazi, liar and accused war criminal (the achievements of a single person) is favored in the race for president of Austria. Why, then, has cynical old Washington worked itself into righteous frenzy over a couple of Reagan aides who have cashed in on success?

The level of indignation here over the doings of David Stockman and Michael Deaver is approaching the periodic high tide reached once per administration (Sherman Adams, Bobby Baker, Watergate, Lancegate). Congress is holding hearings, new laws are a-hatching, and the mob is crying for blood . . . well, at least for taking away their chauffeurs.

Is this just one of Washington's periodic ethical fits? What exactly is it that has so agitated the mob?

Part is envy, I grant, but a small part only. After all, at first Stockman's millions were celebrated as a sort of nice con on New York's fatuous publishing world. It was his words -- the words of one for whom betrayal has become habit -- that brought out the hounds. And if Deaver had raked in his millions with a bit more decorum, he'd be just another of Washington's honored rich.

Then there is self-interest. Beltway bandits of all stripes -- lobbyists, lobbyees, assorted middlemen, all who feed at the great trough of government -- are embarrassed. Everyone does it, but these two flaunt it. Stockman deceived his country, deceived his president and deceived himself -- and has now turned his deceptions into a seri=alized epic that he flogs on every network show that will have him.

As for Deaver, he has jeopardized the new-found respectability of influence peddling. Its practitioners had just come out of the closet, and along comes this Time centerfold posing without a G-string. Bad PR.

There is a third reason -- the emerging conventional wisdom -- on why Stockman, at least, is taking such abuse. He has written, it is said, "a feel-bad book in a feel-good era." The messenger is being punished for the message, bumbling and venality on the Potomac.

Bumbling and venality on the Potomac, however, is an old story, and its chroniclers, as often as not, are honored. Moreover, Stockman gave the gist of his story to the Atlantic over four years ago. No. Stockman, now in his third -- or is it fourth? -- ideological incarnation, is being pilloried for something else: the gusto with which he recounts his deceptions, undertaken in the name of a driving ideology fully wedded to a blind ambition. His epic, in fact, is a classic of the post- Watergate, self-promoting confessional, in which the penitent ostensibly criticizes himself, but in effect shows himself superior to the rogues around him because he knew and they did not.

It won't do. Envy, self-interest and an aversion to feel-bad news don't quite explain the reaction to Stockman and Deaver. There is a genuine feeling of revulsion. It comes under the category of a bridge too far: Stockman and Deaver have simply crossed lines that others hardly dared approach. For Stockman, one betrayal too many. For Deaver, raw influence peddled too overtly.

It is hard to say if there has been an erosion of moral standards in Washington. Hustling is not new. But there certainly has been an erosion of social standards, of what it is acceptable to be seen doing in public, of what ought to occasion shame. There was a time, for example, when lobbyists were circumspect about their trade.

Social sanction is the final barrier against the abuse of public trust. Much better than the law, whose clumsiness as an instrument of policing ethics will undoubtedly be demonstrated yet again when Deaver is cleared of any criminal wrongdoing.

Washington has let lapse one taboo after another about abuse of influence. Stockman's and Deaver's preening proved too much. Taboos are communal conspiracies against individual will. To work, they require some sort of individual acquiescence to a communal judgment. In short, they require a capacity for shame. And what disguishes these current Washington scandals is the shamelessness of the protagonists.

What's happened to shame? Celebrity. It rewards notoriety regardless of origin. The moral valence of the act is irrelevant. Albert Speer, Cyndi Lauper, David Stockman: they all pass under the Donahue gaze, and leave the richer for it.

So now, a mini-revolt. Enough, says the mob. The last civic taoo -- if you are going to do it, for godsakes turn down the lights -- is about to be breached and must be defended. Having tolerated an army of influence abusers, le tout Washington has turned on Stockman and Deaver.

It pains me to say it, but for once the mob is right. Follow that mob.