"America is a strong country with a great president, a great people and a great future! Cheer up! Be more upbeat!"

-- Margaret Thatcher on "Face the Nation"

Did I miss something while I was away? Was there an upheaval in the world's geo-politico-stylo hierarchy that put us in the position of having to listen to condescending pep-u-uppo talks from the leader of a country that doesn't even have one Octoplex SuperCinema or Dinosaur Putt-Putt? If not, there must be some other reason for Big Red's bizarre outburst, and I think I know what it is: She's suffering from a severe case of America Envy. I've often sensed this during her U.S. visits -- at photo opportunities, there's something dreamy and faraway in her gaze that seems to say, "How 'bout we skip all this, get some really hot cycles and a dozen cases of Iron City, and bomb on down to the Talladega 500?" Okay, maybe that's stretching it, but I'm certain of one thing: Mrs. Thatcher would gladly trade it all away -- the prime ministership and all its pomp -- to be an ordinary citizen in a country whose annual budget does not contain a big-bucks line item called "Stupid, Weenie Royal Family."

I know. It's old news that Thatcher dislikes the royal family, and that it is stupid, weenie, expensive and unproductive except in terms of "atmospherics" -- i.e., inspiring, entertaining and/or laughable public spectacles for the mob. And that's fine with me. I've long since gotten over the shock of learning that, thanks to Parliament's smothering occupational-safety regs, Britain's kings and queens no longer do any of the good stuff I read about in my boyhood history books: beheading, dirking and poisoning one another, locking up the occasional boy prince, Crusading or galloping around France in form-fitting steel suits, yelling "What ho!" and playing "mace polo" with the heads of peasant infantrymen. No, my complaint is about those atmospherics: At their very best, they're unspeakably dud.

This summer is a good example. All June and July, the British tabloids screamed that, royal-wise, this was becoming the Summer of Sludge. Much of this dribbled into the New York Post, where I noticed it. Admittedly, I eyeballed these headlines with lip-smacking, sleaze- consumer lust, but like most canny Americans, I kept my money-dispensing paw sheathed, resisting each pulpy installment in the hope that People magazine would eventually do an economical sum-up piece containing a handy digest of scandal particulars. This they did in late July, in a cover story headlined "Naughty, Naughty." I was hoping for -- well, you know what I was hoping for: Fergie and Di, a trampoline, water balloons, a giant tub of unflavored gelatin, many many Palace Guards au buff except for their bearskin hats, and a Benny Hill sound track. But no. In case you skipped this or the three dozen similar stories that appeared on its heels, here is a summary of the raunchiest stuff.

1. One day Fergie sat in Di's lap in public and giggled.

2. At the Ascot races, Bigger Red and Littler Brain poked somebody in the "bum" with their umbrellas and giggled.

3. Di, giggling, was publicly reprimanded by her husband, Prince Jug Ears, for sitting on the hood of his car.

4. Di has been seen in public drinking champagne, giggling and dancing "Travolta Style" with a handsome young bachelor banker with whom she is apparently -- brace yourself -- NOT having a love affair. In retaliation, Prince Jug Ears is not having an affair with giggling Italian sex kitten heiress Fiammetta Frescobaldi.

5. Fergie is known to have told her hubby, Prince Teeth, to "loosen up"; Fergie and her mother were seen "giggling lustily" at Wimbledon; time and again, Fergie has displayed what one Royal Watcher called "a sense of fun and a general youthful attitude, good humor and other things"; and Fergie has introduced Di to some "interesting and attractive" people her age, "a circle of glamourous, pedigreed Playpals most commonly described as high-living young 'hoorays' " ("hoorays" being shorthand for non-royal rich, giggling, stupid Brits).

6. Prince Jug Ears continues to pursue his dominant passions: gardening and architecture.

7. To the alarm of many, Prince Teeth continues to act and sing (with lusty bravado) in charity revues.

8. Di continues to "really love" Neil Diamond. (Hmm, that one is frightening.)

9. Big Mamacita continues to worry.

Wow, no wonder the British press is going ape. "Their world seems to be one of unashamed hedonism!" screeched The Daily Express. And it's true. Next thing you know, Fergie and Di will get caught spitting watermelon seeds or power- burping the first four notes of "Solitary Man" in the choir of St. Paul's Cathedral. But, shocking as all this may be, I gotta say that in my book, the Crownheads are not giving their people much bang for their scandal buck. I mean, compare these overpaid, government-doled sissies with our own royalty: celebrities. In any given week, the U.S. of A. serves up a couple of dozen celeb couples whose antics make the Royal Bunch look like Romper Room Do-Bees. In July we had the Joan Collins/Peter Holm break-up, which, along with many other delights, gave us Romina Danielson, Holm's "secret passion" during his marriage to Joan. Danielson told People magazine that she first had sex with Holm in a park, on a mink coat, where he sprinkled rose petals on her body and said, "Now I want to smell the passion flower." Can Sly Stallone and his estranged Peroxide Amazon top this? We'll soon find out.

Now, I know I'll be accused of unfocused kvetching, but I'm not going to offer a plan to improve the royal family's productivity. I have one, but even I know it's not practical. (For the record: Fire everybody, and let Ed McMahon find a new royal family on "Star Search.") I just brought the matter up for your sake, in case Mrs. Thatcher made you feel bad about not being a Brit. I hope it helps. If not, try this easy-to-do symbolic exercise: Go to the nearest shoppe selling royalty souvenirs, buy a life-size Prince William poster, tack it up, genuflect, lie down flat, lick the floor in front of his feet and say, "Your bidding is my command, great and noble Princeling!" This will elicit certain, uh, patriotic hormones. Then (after you've torn the nasty little he-devil into stamp-size fragments and stopped hyperventilating), the words should come easily and joyfully: "Ah am PROUD . . . to be an Uhmurrican."