First, the nation read his lips. Next, it read his flips. Now Americans evidently must start reading his flops.

That's because the man who told us all to "read my lips" as he promised no new taxes, then changed his mind to break an embarrassing budget impasse with Congress, has now switched again.Less than 48 hours after the ballot boxes closed Tuesday evening, President Bush was back with another big promise capsulized in another ringing phrase. The Democratic-controlled Congress, he vowed, will hike income tax rates only "over my dead veto."

Never mind that Washington might still be struggling to enact a new budget if Bush hadn't agreed to some tax increases.

Never mind that Washington can't entirely control tax policy as long as it can't control the economy, which in some ways has turned sour.

Never mind either that future tax hikes might be unavoidable if the costly presence of American troops in the Persian Gulf is prolonged - or if the United States finds itself at war there.

Sound like the White House is rather confused when it comes to taxes? Maybe so, but then Washington got some mixed signals from the rest of the country last Tuesday.

In six states, including Utah, voters rejected ballot measures that would have limited taxes or new spending. Only Oregon kept the dying embers of the tax revolt alive by approving a ceiling on property levies.

At the same time, however, incumbent governors who entered office pledging not to raise taxes and then switched course paid the price with defeat at the ballot box.

Surely, it didn't take the 1990 election to teach American politicians that supporting tax hikes seldom, if ever, wins popularity contests. But sometimes there's no responsible alternative to that course, no matter how much taxpayers may dislike it.

In any case, if Americans should have learned anything from the recent zig-zags over taxes, it is to watch what politicians do, not what they say.