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Anything You Can Do, We Can Do Worse.....

Americans bristle at Soviet charge their government is more incompetent.....

During one of the innumerable Middle East wars, the Israelis managed to do something annoying to world opinion, something I cannot recall. For a few days the press was full of analysis and explanation and the usual nine yards of hysteria we've come to expect from the Media At War. However, the Arabs soon knocked the story right off the front pages with some traditional atrocity.

While short of details, I remember the incident in the vague, but a political cartoon about it specifically. A bunch of Arabs are plotting rather sulkily in their tents when one of their own rushes in with an elaborate trophy. The trophy is marked "World's Biggest Dirt Bags" and the carrier is screaming "We got it back! We got it back!"

The Soviet Union and the United States may be entering a new phase in their rather pointless conflict: the Glasnost era. Under Gorbachev, the Soviets are showing disturbing signs of moving in the direction of our press, even going so far as to attack the representations of their own government. They are becoming candid about themselves. Nothing - I repeat, nothing - is as dangerous as a Soviet Union wallowing in the incompetence of their government. It threatens something dear to Americans.

Americans love America but, except for the outermost fringes of the intellectually barren, do not and have never loved their government. They take a sort of pride in the corruption, the pontifications of aldermen serving the people while incarcerated. An embarrassed snicker can be elicited anywhere in the country by that old chestnut: "Hello. I'm from the Government and I'm here to help you." In direct lineal descent from ages of jokes about the competencies and intentions of the military brass, the glaring institutionalized horrors of our government's bureaucracy may provide the one common frame of reference in a nation of immigrants. To talk about Fair Taxation, Corporate Responsibility, and Far-Sighted Legislation is to reduce the most politically torpid citizen to fits of gasping laughter. Government is a joke and we like it that way.

This is different from most other nations, who have not had a form of government that has lasted two hundred years and are therefore somewhat touchy about their inadequacies. But now the Soviets may be attacking the one thing with which the United States still unquestionably leads the world: political cynicism. A sort of gleeful, masochistic joy in exposing disasters in progress, and especially those catastrophes so deep in the pipeline that they can neither be stopped nor ignored, just waited out. Like Chernobyl, their economy, their agriculture, their Afghanistan war.

In the United States, a sizeable portion of the nation has felt for years that every moronic, pompous, infuriating lunk head with baseless delusions of competence has been herded into the Federal and State governments and given tenure. It is slowly becoming clear that the Soviets would take issue with that seemingly harmless conceit. If you have all the idiots, the reasoning seems to go, who are these people over here running our country?

As soon as the Soviets get used to the cathartic pleasures of confession and pelf-pity, they will not give them up. In fact, I foresee an interesting twist to negotiations at Geneva. "Did you hear, Secretary Shultz, that our over-equipped, under-trained troops lost another eleven helicopters this week? And that "Ogonek" has uncovered another series of bribes and kick-backs in the Agricultural Ministry? The trials will be endless….."

"So? We are now entering the seventh year of the Wall Street Scandal. Dow Jones fell 4500 points this week, and the Washington Post has photographs of me signing orders for the invasion of Nicaragua. So don't try to edge us off the front page this week, fellah. You Ruskies are still Junior Varsity when it comes to this stuff."