Well, our beloved congressmen tried and failed to raise their own salaries without a record vote, then tried and failed again, and finally said the hell with it and went home, lending credence to the belief that all's well that ends well.

Fortunately, raising its own salary is one of the many things at which Congress is inept.

Mind you, I am not necessarily opposed to pay raises for members of Congress and other, probably more worthy, servants of the Republic. I just think that if they have a case it ought to be made in orderly fashion, not during the whirling-dervish final moments that precede adjournment, and that those who vote yea and nay should do so audibly, not anonymously.

For about four decades I have been trying to purge myself of my low opinion of Congress as a branch of government, and of congressmen as individuals. I keep telling myself that it is unpatriotic to be a carping critic of men and women who are subject to human frailties, and who nevertheless try to do their best. I tell myself that if I were a congressman I would be subjected to the same pressures and would do not better -- probably a lot worse.

But my response to these messages is usually, "Baloney! There are millions of Americans who are smart enough to make common-sense decisions and honest enough not to let greed or ambition influence their actions."

The only problem is that people of this kind can't get themselves elected.

The time may be ripe to accept a suggestion that is being made with increasing frequency: Put Congress "on commission," so to speak. Give Congress the pay increase it wants, but cut congressional pay by the percentage of inflation each year. You say you need more money to get by, dear congressmen? Tell you what you're going to do: We're going to give it to you with one hand and take it away from you with the other by cutting your pay 1 percent for every 1 percent you permit inflation to increase.

You say that's unfair, dear old friend? Well, giving it to you with one hand and taking it away from you with the other may indeed by unfair, but it is what you have been doing to us for many years.

It's about time we gave you a taste of your own medicine. AH, SO!

I am reminded of Bob Orben's reacion to a prominent manufacturer's claim that its ketchup is "the thickest, richest ever."

Orben cautions, "Some people think Congress is."

Add my name to that list, Robert. For once, I'd like to be considered part of a majority group. POSTSCRIPT

Credit Orben with one more sage observation. His evaluation of television is that it is a textbook example of recycling: "The commercials show you how to get the dirt out -- and then the programs put it right back in." FAIR IS FAIR

In the weeks before the election, many of my readers alleged that President Carter was cynically "manipulating" the release of the hostages to his own political advantage.

I received more than 100 letters charging that the president could have gotten the hostages out "months ago" but was delaying agreement until just before the election.

The long weeks that followed made it clear that no acceptable deal has ever been offered to us, and that even now it remains difficult, perhaps impossible, for us to meet Iran's bizarre terms.

Yet I have not received one letter of apology from those who accused President Carter of manipulating the date on which the hostages would be released. Not one.

Some months ago, I read an article that said men have a keenly developed sense of fair play because, as boys, they engaged in sports that teach fair play. Few women know how to play fair, the article said, because as girls they didn't play baseball, football, and the rest.

I wish I could remember who wrote that balderdash. Most of those who wanted me to print their unsubtantiated charges against President Carter were men, and I would like to ask the author of that article why not one of those men has seen fit to acknowledge that he was wrong in alleging that Carter held back on an easily achievable accord with the Iranians.