WASHINGTON -- I'd heard about a medical malady you can get from watching too much cable news. You start feeling jittery and apprehensive about the future.
But I'd never experienced it until a recent night, when I had to turn off the rant-around-the-clock shows reporting on political vandals vitiating the good name of a country they claim to love, scrapping in the weeds over nothing while dancing on the precipice of an international financial collapse.
I flipped around and paused at ABC's "Scandal."
I'd never gotten into "Scandal" because it seemed too outlandishly over-the-top, a silly sex-and-murder-fueled Washington soap opera.
Shonda Rhimes took the story of Judy Smith, a deputy press secretary for Poppy Bush who became a crisis manager, and melded it with the story of Smith's most famous client, Monica Lewinsky.
Rhimes, who became wealthy by never underestimating the appetite of the American public for devilish, dervish plots, cut out the middleman -- or middlewoman -- and made the crisis manager the president's mistress.
I was about to keep flipping when I saw something soothing on "Scandal" that I had not seen in Washington in eons: acidic adversaries working together on a seeming Gordian knot and quickly settling on a compromise.
Suddenly, compared with the incredible, insane, illogical cliffhangers in the actual D.C., the ones in Rhimes' D.C. seem quite credible.
Kerry Washington's Olivia Pope, unmasked by The Washington Post at the end of last season as the president's girlfriend, opens her safe and takes out a folder with a code.
"The most infamous woman in America," as she's known, uses the "fire-alarm" password that her commander-in-chief lover, had given her in case of a terrorist, chemical or nuclear attack. With that code, she's able to lure President Fitzgerald Grant and the first lady, Mellie, into the White House bunker. Once the unholy trinity is gathered, Olivia, wearing a killer white Burberry trench coat that signals her pursuit of "white hat" justice, demands that they hammer out a deal to save their reputations.
"We have a job to do here, and in order for me to do my part effectively," Olivia icily tells the manipulative Mellie, "I'm going to need you to refrain from referring to me as a whore -- at least in front of my face."
That's the kind of dialogue I used to find irritatingly purple. But, suddenly, it sounded refreshingly sensible.
Why hadn't President Barack Obama used a pretext to lure John Boehner, Ted Cruz and Harry Reid to the White House, locked them in a bunker and kept them there until they hammered out a deal to save America's reputation?
If Olivia can trust her president, who killed a Supreme Court justice and sicced a military officer to spy on her, and he can trust her, after she rigged voting machines to get him elected, surely the real players here can summon up some trust.
We now find ourselves plunged into a surreal, sensationalized, sordid world where a demonstrator waves a Confederate flag at the White House and Larry Klayman tells Obama "to put the Quran down"; where Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin, after goading Tea Party pols to close down the government, go to a rally at the World War II memorial to express outrage that the government is closed down.
Ignoring the fact that it's her beloved Tea Party dragging the country to ruin, Palin suggested on Facebook that if the country defaults on its debt, Obama is risking impeachment.
House Republicans sang "Amazing Grace" at the start of their Tuesday kamikaze meeting, but they're amazing only for their lack of grace.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., who survived a hooker scandal, came up with an atrocious plan to squeeze Capitol Hill staffers -- who are often working hard for petty tyrants -- and make them pay the full cost of their health care premiums, which few big companies do.
One resentful House Republican staffer emailed The New Yorker's Ryan Lizza about the proposed Vitter amendment: "If they hate Congress," he said of the public, "imagine working for it."
Compared with our implausible theater of the absurd, it seems quite plausible to see President Grant slugging back Scotch in the Oval Office and chatting with his evangelical vice president about her cheating husband.
Liv Pope is appealingly relentless and brass-knuckled compared to Obama. Her mantras are, after all, "It's handled," and "I'm never out of options."
David Axelrod admitted to The Boston Globe's Matt Viser that the Obama team should have involved Obama more in interacting with Capitol Hill from the beginning, so the aloof president who breezed through the Senate could learn how the velvet-and-vise game is played. Instead, negotiating with the Hill was outsourced to Rahm Emanuel, who makes Pope seem like a defeatist.
"If I rethink it," Axelrod said, "maybe we were too reliant on Rahm and should have engaged the president more in those early months and years."
When the ship of state turns into the ship of fools, we all sink.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.