Did you hear the one about the $15 million worth of ice someone paid for and never used? They finally just decided to let it all melt. After all, it was just a drop in the bucket.
If that sounds like a bad joke, it is. It's bad because it's true.
We've now learned that the U.S. government finally took decisive executive action in allowing the mountain of ice put aside for Hurricane Katrina victims to be "eliminated." Or "melted," as the rest of us non-bureaucrats would say.
In the obscene world of federal budget numbers, the $15 million appropriated to pay for all that ice is truly a drop in the bucket.
However, with the savage disregard Americans already have for their government -- both the White House and Congress -- the drip, drip of leaking tax dollars may start to have the cumulative political effect of annoying Americans beyond their customary patriotic disdain for Washington.
Past opinion surveys tell us that male voters rank government waste and its evil twins, taxing and spending, equally high on their list of issues that help them decide how to vote for president of the United States. This is particularly true of Republican men.
That leads to the subject of former Sen. Fred Thompson, now an unannounced but likely GOP candidate for president. In surveys of Republican voters in both Georgia and South Carolina, conducted for the Southern Political Report (www.southernpoliticalreport.com), Thompson finished first, ahead of the usual pack leader, Rudy Giuliani.
Other polls in Florida and Iowa show Thompson picking up steam.
A close examination of these polls reveals that Thompson's big boost is coming from Republican men. They seem to be yearning for a return to the GOP's fiscal-reform vision of the mid-1980s.Not to burst their bubbles, but not everything went swimmingly in the Reagan years. Some of the fiscal policies of both Reagan and Congress back then didn't exactly promote a low-tax, pro-business environment. But that's a story for another day.
The point is that today's disgruntled Republican voters are searching for something -- anything -- that can separate them as voters from what they view as a Republican Party that's drifted way off course.
Is Fred Thompson the man to seize the rudder?
In person Thompson often dominates with the combination of his impressive height and movie-star presence. People often swarm to him for photos, handshakes and autographs. Much like Ronald Reagan, the friendly and folksy Thompson happily obliges his fans.
But then you peel back his skin and look at what's inside. Thompson's reviews on the stump have been mixed at best. I heard him speak several weeks ago among a small gathering. Granted, the heat index just outside could have melted concrete. Whether the energy-sapping summer day was to blame or not, Thompson's canned remarks appeared to be disorganized, and his delivery lacked both punch and panache.
And yet when the question-and-answer phase of the proceedings started, the actor-politician suddenly acted and politicked quite well.
He noted that the Democratic Party had made him "No. 1 on their hit list" of Republicans to attack.
Still, Thompson has provided too little and too contradictory evidence so far on the potential worth of a Thompson candidacy.
He still has time to craft his message and tighten his speeches. He can hone his act by sparring with practice candidates in mock debates behind the scenes.
Best of all for Thompson is that he had the foresight, discipline and steely nerves to do what no other Republican presidential candidate was wise enough to do -- nothing at all, and for a long time.
Now, with John McCain running on fumes, Mitt Romney having already hit up everybody possible for campaign cash and Rudy Giuliani slipping a bit in the polls, this non-candidate candidate named Fred Thompson could easily move from the television screen to the political arena. There, he would appear fresh, if for no other reason than that so far he has stayed offstage while the other candidates have toed the Republican line that Republican male voters are indicating they may not want to toe themselves anymore.
Of course, women voters usually decide presidential and other important political races. But Thompson is holding his own with them, too.
Conclusion? Fred Thompson might be more than just a noisy drop in the bucket before it's all over.