Notes are seldom taken on what is said during the brilliant discussions that take place in the National Press Club's taproom.
The reason no formal record is kept is that most of the participants are journalists, not reporters. A journalist carries a passport and airlines credit cards. A reporter carriers pencil and paper, also nickels and dimes with which he can call the office.
I had pencil and paper but couldn't take notes because the bartender and set out a bowl of peanuts and a bowl of pretzels. Both my hands were busy.
However, I can remember most of what was said. A reporter for a Midwest newspaper complained about the Carter administration's errors. "The worst ones," he said, "were energy and inflation. As soon as OPEC was formed as a cartel of oil buyers. But we blew that opportunity, and by the time Carter took over, there was only one ploy left. He should have organized a cartel of food exporting nations. But he didn't do it."
A reporter for a newspaper in a farm state drank deeply from a sudsy potion, somehow managing to shake his head as he drank. "That's been suggested before," he said when he set down his glass, "and it won't work. There are too many alternative foods and food producers, and nobody could ever get them to agree on one unified policy."
The first man was adamant. "They said OPEC would never work because the Arabs have always been jealous and suspicious of each other. The world thought the Arabs would never agree on a unified policy. But they did. And we could, too."
"It was easy for OPEC," came the answer, "because there's no real alternative to oil. When you can't get potatoes, you can eat rice instead. But when you need oil, you need oil."
A reporter for a West Coast newspaper had been silent through this exchange. Now he said, "I kind of like the idea of our forming a cartel for bargaining with their oil cartel. And I think we ought to form another cartel that would jack up the prices of the foods we export. There was a pretty good relationship when wheat was $3.60 a bushel and oil was $3.60 a barrel. But wheat is still $3.60 a bushel while their damn oil has been boosted to more than $20. I think the foodgrowing countries ought to get together and multiply their export prices by five or six. If we did that, we'd strengthen the dollar, help the farmer, and get back some of the money that's been ripped off from us."
"You're being naive" said the man from the farm state. "You know this country is never going to drive a hard bargain with any other nation. Good old Uncle Fud will never do anthing that would lay him open to an accusation of profiteering at the expense of the poor nations of the world. We give the stuff away, or lend people the money to buy it on a dollar-down-and-dollar-when-you catch-me basis. Hard bargaining is considered gauche."
Another man said to the California, "I thought you guys had so much Alaskan oil stacked up that there wasn't any more room in your storage tanks, and you had to sell the surplus to Japan. How come the first place that ran short of gas was California?"
"I don't know," the Californian mused. "That angle of it is being covered by our people out there."
"Listen," the man from the Midwest said, "your comment about our being too noble to profiteer at the expense of the poor reminded me of a line Ted Kennedy used in a commencement speech a few days ago. He ripped into the Carter administration's energy program because it requires poor people to pay a higher percentage of their income for energy than rich people pay. Now what the hell kind of logic is that from a supposedly intelligent man? The poor have always had to pay a higher percentage of their income for everthing they buy - from a pair of shoelaces to a loaf of bread."
"If they applauded," the Californian predicted, "he'll use the line again. Kennedy is in an ideal position for a politician. He can criticize everything his own party's president is doing, and everything the other party's presidents have ever done, but inasmuch as he's not running he'll never have to demonstrate that he could have run things any better than they did."
"Johnny," somebody said, "give us another round, please, and this time dig down into the ice and get some cold ones."
We don't settle many issues at the club, but we sure do analyze them.
TIME MARCHES ON
Smiles, a humor magazine published for the Lawshe Instrument Co., carries this entry:
"Once upon a time movies were rated on how good they were not on who was allowed to see them."