The man, a retired colonel from Boca Raton, had accused her of being a fuzzy-headed liberal. I mean, those were his words, written in capital letters on the back of a postcard with a flamingo on it: "YOU FUZZY-HEADED LIBERAL!"

She, was, to be honest about it, taken aback by this accusation. She's never actually considered herself fuzzy-headed - perhaps frizzy-headed, but only on the most humid days - and like everyone, she thought of herself as a moderate.

The fact of the matter is that, if she had any political philosophy at all, it was one of Muddling Through. She was a card-carrying Muddler.

The Muddlers are those people who occupy the middle territory. They live somewhere between the certainty that is repeatedly worng and the uncertainty that leads to paralysis.

Some of them are, of course, the Formerly Certain. Certainty peaked around 1968, if you recall, when half the people raised the American flag as if it were a gauntlet, while the other half wore it on the seat of their pants. Certaintees on the left came down with a case of ambivalence circa 1972. Certaintees on the right went leap-frogging from one issue to the next, until they finally seem to have deposited their polliwogs in the Panama Canal.

On the whole, the positive people put their faith in A System. Or two. They believe that if you find the right principles and apply them consistently enough to people, everything will work out. They are rather like the French, who go through the most outrageous upheavals to replace one political philophy with another (rather the way Henry VIII replaced his wives) to ensure the future. Now, when some of them have finally developed a non-scheme of things, an anti-system ideology, they are called "The New Philosophers." But they are, of course. Old Muddlers.

But what of the Totally, Paralytically Uncertain? They sink in ambiguity. They throw up their hand - and use them only to embrace doubt. They are stuck, like peanut butter in a sandwich, between different points of view. The Uncertain would rather admire conflicts than resolve them.

But the Muddlers in the Middle are different. They have very low expectations of Nirvana Now. Utopia simply isn't on their dance card this season.

They are the patchworkers of society. Though they don't have all the answers and rarely believe there are perfect solutions, they are committed to trying - still.

They see that those who are totally certain only build perfections on paper. They see that those who are totally uncertain take an exemption on account of despair and let things fall apart, because they cannot decide on the right tool for fixing them.

The Muddlers prefer to go on, choosing one from column A and one from column B. Patching. They stick their fists in the holes in the dike. They usually know that they are voting only for the lesser of two evils, but they vote. They do not often take their bat and ball and go home.

The Muddlers believe that the best you can probably do is to make minor improvements. But this belief in no way excuses them from making those minor improvements.

Unfortunately, they do not have the sort of philosophy that fits on a bumper sticker or a postcard from Boca Raton. Perhaps it isn't really a philosophy at all.

But when things are in a bit of a muddle, the best people to have around may be those who know how to Muddle Through.