It's grimace and grovel time again, friends, the annual year-end review of the goofs and gaffes that make this column a perpetual adventure in errancy. The shortage of elections in 1985 made it tough to match 1984's total of howlers. But, like Don Denkinger umpiring at first base in the sixth game of the World Series, when the chance came to make a crucial bottom-of-the- ninth bad call, I did not miss it.
Just before the Series, for example, I assigned "substantial blame for the Great Depression that began in 1929" to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act. As several of you were unkind enough to note, that protectionist law did not reach President Hoover's desk until the summer of 1930, well after the stock-market crash.
What can I tell you? I certainly should have remembered the signing ceremony, since I was eight months old. But when you get old, the memory goes.
That could explain, too, why I mangled the song lyric and had Gary Hart "another year (instead of "day") older and deeper in debt." But honestly, this was the fourth time in five years that I have messed up a musical allusion, so the malfunction in that part of the brain is chronic.
Then there were the incautious comments for which one was punished by a flood of unneeded information. The prime example was the statement that Speaker Vera Katz of the Oregon house of representatives was apparently only the second woman in American history to hold such a post. From a raft of letters, I soon learned of at least three others. In the same vein, when John Duxbury of St. Louis protested my elevation of former senator Eugene J. McCarthy from semipro ballplayer to the professional ranks, he was generous enough to append the lifetime career statistics of a former senator who did play three seasons in the minors -- the late Scott W. Lucas of Illinois.
Some of the goofs can be put down to wishful thinking. On April 10, the Devil made me write that 1985 would be "the Season of Destiny" for the Cubs. Destiny, it turned out, intended a succession of sore arms and a fourth- place finish.
It was probably wishful thinking, too, that made me guess last spring, on the eve of President Reagan's first televised speech on tax reform, that he would deliver a populist rouser, attacking corporations that pay no taxes, thereby "divorcing his party from the corporate sponsorship that has been its sustenance -- and its curse -- since the days of Mark Hanna." He did no such thing.
Speaking of Reagan, his fan club is alive and well. I heard from scores of them when, in a Labor Day article dealing with the president's latest "imprecisions" about South Africa, I expressed sympathy for the White House aides charged with "watering the arid desert between Reagan's ears." It seemed a mild enough phrase, but a remarkable number of folks took offense.
Chester Loomis of Boca Raton, Fla., in one of the milder responses, scrawled over the column: "If you're so smart and he's so dumb, how come he's president and you're just a hack pencil-pusher?" I've asked myself the same question, Mr. Loomis, and have yet to find an answer. Just bad luck, probably.
The biggest mail of the year came after a column recounting my parents' struggle for independence in their living arrangements, despite the accidents and ailments that have slowed them this past year. So many of you -- both renowned and anonymous readers -- responded with heart-warming tales of your own and your parents' similar experiences. It gave my parents great strength and confidence when they most needed it, and they are, despite some setbacks, coping well.
Brief follow-ups on three other columns saluting worthy efforts: The Scholar-Leadership Enrichment Program at the University of Oklahoma, whose 10th anniversary was noted here last April, is expanding its efforts to bring noted figures into contact with a cross-section of students from Oklahoma colleges. A similar outreach program has started in four high schools.
Back in June, then-secretary of health and human services Margaret M. Heckler used my column on the subject to publicize efforts to finance an expansion of a volunteer program that adapts exotic defense and space technology to aid handicapped and disabled people live more normal lives. Early in December, President Reagan held a White House ceremony to salute the effort, which is still short of the money it needs to start a nationwide network of offices where handicapped people can be introduced to engineers who may be able to help them.
On Dec. 1, I wrote about the fun and excitement of participating in a Jefferson Meeting -- a mock-convention designed to reacquaint today's citizens with the issues embedded in the Constitution. I expressed the hope that communities across America could share that experience.
Many of you agreed. In the first two weeks after the column appeared, Dick Merriman, director of the Jefferson Meeting (1529 18th St. NW, Washington, DC 20036) had more than 700 letters and calls, ranging from Hartford to Honolulu. Plans for celebrating the living legacy of the Constitution are under way in a majority of the states.
That clears my conscience to go forward into 1986, no doubt to err unsparingly again.