IT WAS the 18th-century poet Alexander Pope who wrote, "Satire's my
weapon, but I'm too discreet/To run amuck and tilt at all I meet." It is sound advice, and there are more than a few bureaucrats in the Food and Nutrition Service of the Department of Agriculture who now wish that I had followed it.
Last week, in these pages, I wrote what I thought was a patently absurd, tongue-in-cheek article about five ludicrous Great Society social programs that David Stockman could eliminate from the federal budget without causing a moment's distress.
There was a simple reason why I was so certain that the loss of these programs would be totally painless: None of these programs ever existed. I just made them up out of whole cloth while shaving one morning.
My first -- and I'll admit favorite -- example was something I dubbed "Wine and Cheese Stamps," which were allegedly designed to help the beleaguered residents of posh suburban neighborhoods afford imported brie and California chardonnay. The idea seemed so absurd that I took the liberty of giving the program a complicated administrative history which stated that it was now run by the Food and Nutrition Service.
What I had forgotten was how unfair life has been for the bureaucrats over at FNS. Not only do they have to preside over cuts in the real food stamp program, but they are also the people who defined ketchup as a vegetable in the school lunch program. More tsoris they don't need. The FNS director could write an autobiography entitled, "Trouble Is My Business."
But Wine and Cheese Stamps were all a joke, like Jonathan Swift's famous "Modest Proposal" about eating the children of Ireland. The last sentence of my article stated in clear terms what the headline over the piece implied: that all these phantom programs were just a "fantasy."
But despite this disclaimer, last Monday morning the phones at FNS began ringing. Most of the calls came from taxpayers who were "mad as hell and not going to take it anymore," but there was at least one from a senior Agriculture Department official who demanded to know who was responsible for Wine and Cheese Stamps and what did they intend to do about them.
George S. Kaufman once said, "Satire is what closes Saturday night." An updated version might read: "Satire is what ruins Monday mornings for bureaucrats." It all goes to show that these days American taxpayers will believe anything -- and I mean anything -- about the federal government. The next thing you know President Reagan will be denouncing Wine and Cheese Stamps in the same tones he once reserved for the "Chicago welfare queen."
It's a terible shame. Before this firestorm erupted I was working on a follow-up article announcing that the President's Council on Physical Fitness had worked out an agreement with the Arthur Murray organization to begin issuing "Dancing Stamps." You see, one stamp would entitle you to learn the box step and three would give you a full hour's worth of tango lessons.
Art Buchwald, the idea's all yours, if you want it. From now on, I intend to limit myself to writing about real federal programs like the Gorgas Memorial Institute of Tropical and Preventive Medicine.