It's probably because they are so unaccustomed to getting a break that the Democrats fell all over themselves in the matter of Neil Bush, whose appearance on the scene did so much to level the S&L playing field.

The Democrats, who have already lost two top leaders to the scandal and who have been frantic with frustration, went right up the wall when they found out that the president's youngest son might be sued for his conduct as a director of the Silverado Banking, Savings and Loan, which failed and will cost the taxpayers $1 billion.

It was what they had been praying for, an individual case that backlit the pageant of greed and privilege, an individual case with White House connections. When it happened, they lost their heads, lost their cool.

Right away, Rep. Patricia Schroeder (Colo.), onetime Democratic presidential candidate, leaped forward to propose a special prosecutor. It was a time to purr, not pounce, but Schroeder, in her drive to lasso signers of her appeal, failed to notice the obvious, that there already was a special prosecutor. His name was Neil Bush, and he was talking his head off, revealing an exceptional capacity to be his own worst enemy.

Of the $100,000 loan from a Denver investor that he didn't need to pay back, he said it was "an incredibly sweet deal." Who could say it better?

In their rush to judgment, Democrats also failed to notice that George Bush, at a news conference at the Houston summit, did extraordinarily well in defense of his son. If Democrats continue their manic pursuit, they will create vast sympathy for a loving father, who vowed not to interfere.

They may even end up making people feel sorry for Neil Bush.

The thunder and lightning qualities of the dialogue may spend themselves with the summer, and all parties may settle down to a sober assessment of the facts. Right now, it's awfully volatile out there.

Rep. Edward F. Feighan (D-Ohio) got swept up in the special prosecutor wave, signed Schroeder's letter, belatedly realized that his signature, the 12th, would trigger a request for an independent counsel, and asked to wthdraw his name. The letter went out with his name on it, and he had the awkwardness of having to write an express letter to the attorney general canceling his signature.

Edward J. Rollins, the co-chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who was obviously just as shaken as they were, started heaving stones the size of paving blocks at the Democrats to cover up his dismay. He named House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) as a recipient of S&L campaign contributions. The speaker, who has often been criticized for stolidity and even stoicism, called Rollins "an out of control person," given to "emotional ravings."

The Democrats did something else unwise last week. They chose New York City as the site of their 1992 convention. Why? Well, it seems Manhattan is the home town of Democratic National Committee Chairman Ron Brown. He wanted to do it for Mayor David Dinkins. Besides, he wanted to stick it to New Orleans for Louisiana's strict new abortion law. A convention is essentially supposed to be a good time, and using it to beat an antiabortion state seems a poor idea.

Abortion may be a strong issue for the Democrats. But for everyone who regards it as an inalienable right of women, there is someone who agrees with Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York, that it is "a tragedy and a trauma."

But it isn't just that. New York is going through a period when it would be better off to go to its room and think things over instead of having company. Overcrowded New York doesn't even like the people who live there and profess to love it. It despises strangers. It regards politeness as weakness.

It has a couple of new wackos, a man who shoots darts into women's backsides, and a killer who murders by astrological charts.

New Orleans is in the South, a region that Democrats should be courting, not lecturing. New Orleans has suffered -- so has New York, but it won't admit it -- the "Big Easy" went right down to the bottom with the oil slump, and it is touchingly grateful to be alive. Like Blanche DuBois in the most famous play written about the city, it has "depended much on the kindness of strangers."

New Orleans enveloped the Republicans in delicious, ungrudging hospitality in 1988. Smiling, white-gloved waiters offered champagne from silver trays to people waiting in line to register at hotels. Jazz combos played at every corner; Bourbon Street partied around the clock, never stopped laughing.

But Democrats, beaten down these many years, don't know how to have a good time any more.