If Muammar Qaddafi is the "mad dog," "pariah" and "barbarian" Ronald Reagan says he is, then the attack of insults that became an attack of bombs is a macho moment for America. That means it is a low moment, one of shame that we have a president who has started World War II 1/2 with a massive bombing raid on a country with which we aren't at war. Reagan called it "self-defense." It is self-indulgence.

Libya is a desert nation of 3 million people. Like sitting duck Grenada, it is the kind of weak country that Reagan and his Pentagon have no fear of bullying with warplanes. Victory is easily assured when most of the nighttime firepower is on your side.

In Grenada, our fearless Marines and Army shelled a hillside mental hospital and killed some 20 schizophrenics and psychotics who were threatening America's national security. On March 24, U.S. warplanes went into the Gulf of Sidra. A Libyan leader said last week that 56 of his countrymen were slain, including many on a fishing vessel and tugboat on rescue missions. It was left to a group of U.S. servicemen -- who requested anonymity -- to comment about the dead: "We recognize that they are human beings and we deeply regret that they had to be killed."

Small wonder that the group asked for anonymity. Under commander-in-chief Reagan, macho with insults before the assault, regrets about killing people led by a mad dog might be the stuff of a court martial. We wait for the number of new dead to be anonymously regretted.

In the president's Monday night announcement that Qaddafi's violence had been matched by the Pentagon's violence, a favorite Reagan word turned up: appeasement. There is "no safety in the appeasement of evil." In 1968, while governor of California, Reagan said that Lyndon Johnson's decision to wait a few days until deciding on a response to the North Koreans' seizing of the USS Pueblo was "appeasement." Johnson ignored the send-in-the-warplanes argument advanced by Reagan and others. His waiting resulted in every crew member coming home alive.

Aside from cheapening the presidency, Reagan's shouting insults at Qaddafi -- as well as those to Daniel Ortega -- means an erosion of accountability. The public and media are diverted when a president, in persistent overreaction, calls another government leader a "mad dog," or as the case with the Ortega government, labeling it "Murder, Inc." Reagan gives himself a holiday from being accountable for such seemingly trivial issues like growing hunger and homelessness, the depression in farm states, the budget deficit, his support of the National Rifle Association.

With the West's leader obsessed by a "mad dog" on the loose, can the media think of anything else? Much of it doesn't. At Reagan's April 10 press conference -- the first in two months, excluding what he shouts to Sam Donaldson to and from the helicopter on the White House lawn -- the first eight questions were about Libya. A few reporters, glutted, changed the subject. Six questions later, the pack returned: "Mr. President, if I could bring it back to Mr. Qaddafi . . ." Of course he could, along with four more questioners.

Before a group of editors earlier in the day, Reagan was asked why he denounces his "critics and liberals and previous administrations in language that is . . . unusually harsh." Reagan played it for laughs, with a crack about his court journalist, William Buckley.

Parts of the media have worn out. When Reagan used a nationally televised speech in mid-March to defame the Nicaraguan government with distortions of the truth, Time magazine avoided the word lies and said the address was "sprinkled with overstatements." It was Reagan's own Drug Enforcement Administration that refuted the charge that the Nicaraguans were into "drug trafficking."

David Gergen, when serving in Reagan's communications office, called his master's butchering of truth "a folk art." Gergen said that "over the years, Reagan has come out with many facts and figures and far more often than not, he was right." James David Barber of Duke University called that "a novel version of majority rule."

It didn't harm Gergen's reputation. When this connoisseur of folk art left the employ of Reagan, he went to U.S. News & World Report and is now the editor. Presumably Gergen holds his staff to the tough standards of Reagan-style journalism: Try to get the facts straight more often than not.

When running for the presidency in 1980, the fear about Reagan was his wildness. For years, he had been talking wild but once in the White House would he act wild? It took a few years, but now we know. Reagan's foreign policy with Libya first became an insult policy and now it's a bombing policy. Killing people and calling it "self-defense" lowers America to the depths of Qaddafi's terrorism. On to Nicaragua, Caspar and Rambo.