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The best and brightest of what passes for the nation's political leadership is responding to a national crisis, with Democrats and Republicans now whacking each other unmercifully over the savings and loan scandal.

It's a full 10 years after the politicians themselves - Democrats and Republicans - deliberately planted the seeds of the scandal and nine years after bipartisan congressional actions and Reagan administration blunders guaranteed the disaster.It's at least five years after spreading rot was apparent and two years after a national election in which the approaching financial collapse was ignored.

Now, after all these years, with the scandal carried by waves of publicity that point to the decadelong failures of public officials, they're responding just about as we might expect they would.

They're blaming each other, shouting accusations they hope will be loud enough to drown out accusations from the other side. At long last the S&L scandal has become serious business for the politicians.

It is, of course, not so serious that appropriate legislative corrections have been imposed on the still-shoddy S&L practices. And it's not so serious that a faster federal rescue has been mounted instead of the planned 40 years of borrowing at an estimated cost of $500 billion.

It's serious business for the nation's Democratic and Republican political leaders only because of fears of what riled voters might do against incumbent office holders next November and again in 1992.

And while they ignored earlier signs of S&L disaster, the growing fear of political disaster now produces rising levels of partisanship in public speech and action.

Listen to this from Rep. Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., the House Republican minority whip, as he spoke his piece about the S&L scandal: "I am sickened by the stench of corruption and hypocrisy which permeates the Democratic Party in Congress."

The words "corruption" and "hypocrisy" can attach to congressional Democrats involved in the S&L scandal. And the same words can attach to Republicans in the Congress and in the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Gingrich's outburst was in response to a Democratic cheap shot at the Bush White House, an attempt to mask congressional Democrats from blame in the S&L scandal by aiming at President Bush's own vulnerability.

One of the president's sons, Neil, was a board member who now figures prominently in the $1 billion collapse of a Denver S&L. So Denver Democratic Rep. Pat Schroeder collected Democratic signatures on a letter to Republican Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, a request intended to make Thornburgh decide whether a special S&L prosecutor should be appointed in Denver.

The blame-saying in the S&L scandal even has some humor of the man-bites-dog variety.

Common Cause, a respected watchdog of politics, launched an ad campaign, so far directed into districts of several congressional Democrats who accepted S&L campaign money in years the scandal was brewing.

The ads are true, uncomfortably true. They say, in part: "S&L interests gave members of Congress millions. Taxpayers were ripped off for billions . . . And Congress has done nothing."

Common Cause cut so close to the Democratic bone that the usually placid House Speaker Tom Foley was moved to de-nounce the ads as "scurrilous," using "tactics of innuendo and inference that are typical of the worst elements of campaign advertising."

The ads are probably "the lowest point" in the history of Common Cause, said Foley of the organization that for many years has most often been castigated by Republicans for favoring Democrats.

Now that's funny.