The air conditioner at the American Enterprise Institute must be on the blink this hot summer. What else could explain Norman Ornstein's "The Blame Game: Look Who's Bashing America Now" {Outlook, July 26}?

First, the basis of the article, Jeane Kirkpatrick's memorable speech to the Republican National Convention in 1984, was turned inside out by Ornstein. The speech hit a bull's-eye because it expressed the obvious: the Democratic Party has been captured by a small group of extremists who hate American culture and American life and values -- especially religious life and the free-enterprise system. "They" blame this society, our whole culture, and hold it in contempt, responsible for all of the world's ills.

After his inaccurate rendering of the Kirkpatrick speech, Ornstein mumbles along in an irrational, whining tone about those nasty ol' conservatives who are hammering away against Congress as an "institution." Pat Buchanan, Paul Craig Roberts, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times are the new Blame America First crowd because they dare to bring attention to the obvious. And the obvious, which Ornstein generously quotes for us, doesn't "blame" America: it quite specifically blames Congress and, to a lesser extent, the media for very specific deeds or lack of deeds. Nowhere does Ornstein quote any of these folks as blaming "America." He couldn't.

Conservatives recognize the strong, affluent and vibrant America that really exists and is a result of the hard work, hard love and hard prayer of Americans. And they understand that this is in spite of Congress and the media as a whole. Norman Ornstein tips his hand when he uses the official Washington phrase to describe thinking that threatens the "gravy train" of life on the Potomac: "ignores balance and reason."

-- Mike Giere

Norman Ornstein's essay claims that conservatives make up the bulk of the membership of the "Blame America First Club" rather than the San Francisco Democrats of 1984. It is an interesting notion, but it is way off track.

Ornstein misses an obvious and critical point: not one of the three conservatives Ornstein cites (Oliver North, Paul Craig Roberts and Pat Buchanan) blames "America." Rather, all three blame "Congress." Blaming a Democrat-controlled Congress is hardly equivalent to blaming America.

The conservatives have not changed their stance or their rhetoric; they have merely renamed the defendant to fit the times.

-- Matt McQueen

As director of the 1984 opposition research group based at the Republican National Committee, I could spot a "Blame America First" statement at 20 yards.

Norman Ornstein offers a collection of quotations to support his thesis that conservatives are the new "Blame America Firsters" in American politics. But there isn't an authentic "Blame America First" utterance in the lot -- just a dozen or so statements in which certain observers express a very low opinion of Congress.

A bona fide "Blame America Firster" is an individual whose first instinct is to impugn U.S. actions abroad (no matter whose party controls the White House) and give our enemies the benefit of the doubt. In 1983, for example, Walter Mondale said: "Our apparent indifference to international law {in Grenada} will erode our moral authority to oppose outrages in Afghanistan, Poland, Cambodia and elsewhere." That is a true "Blame America First" quotation.

Accept no substitutes. -- Michael J. Bayer