WE HAVE BEEN pouring over the great documents meant to inspire Americans on Indepence Day, and to tell you the truth, we find them quite depressing. That is not because of anything our eloquent national forebears did or said, but, rather, because it is simply unimaginable that in our own day and age any such eloquent -- and elegant -- assertions of purpose could mafe. Think about it -- you know it's true: Given the language and metabolism of 1979, the nation's leaders never ever would have gotten around to an actual Declaration of Independence. No, instead, we would have had a statement of goals and timetables with strategies for compliance by 1992.

"When in the course of human events it becomes necessary . . ." So the Founders began. And our version? That's easy: "If at some point in time during the development-sensitive phases of a human interraction there is perceived to be a consensus that it is mandatory . . ." Do you have any doubt of it? Do you not know, deep down in that star-spangled patriotic heart of yours, that King George would have been charged with a failure to allow the oppressed people any input in his decision-making process? "To prove this," the Founders declared, "let Facts be submitted to a candid world," and they then laid out their indictment of the king. In our time there would be no Facts [there never are], only Criteria for measuring how well the colonists' proposals were being implemented over time.

One thing, it is true, doesn't seem very different -- the complaints about what the government is up to. Read the nation's capital for the royal He and you'll get the idea: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance." Nevertheless, even though this sounds a little like the justification for Proposition 13, and even though it is true that politicians around the nation have struck back at the swarms of government Officers with swarms of Proposition 13-like things of their own, it is indisputable that the old punch just isn't there any more.

If you doubt it, only consider that most stellar gentelman of the revolution, Patrick Henry and his famous stirring words: "Give me liberty, or give me death." The 1979 Potomac sensibility stares at the statement in confusion and disbelief and asks: What kind of an option paper is that? Where is the third option, Option C, the one you are supposed to choose? "Option A, Liberty" -- the paper would certainly begin -- "has a certain surface attraction. It would be extremely popular with the public. But there are certain policy costs associated with it as well." The costs would follow, mounting to a total discrediting of Option A and introducing the discussion of Option B. "Option B, Death, at first glance seems harsh. However . . ." Still, the howevers, wouldn't quite make option B wash -- ergo Option C, the one combining a little Liberty with a little Death.

What exactly would that option look like? We don't know. You might try working it out if you have nothing better to do while you re waiting in the gas line.