Across America last week, many Americans were irked by certain secular judgments of the Ayotollah Ruhollah Khomeini, D.D. Harsh words were passed between them and some 50,000 Iranian students who have come here to see the work of Satan for themselves -- and one wonders: do they take pictures and are they allowed back into Iran with them? At any rate, last week the angriest American of all was Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts' singing bartender. Teddy is an amiable fellow full of fun and ribaldry, but the ayatollah's activities of last week brought the blood to his cheeks. If there is a cat in the Kennedy household, you can be sure that it was ducking flying shoes when the news arrived that the creme de la creme of Iranian studenthood -- all middle-aged and inflamed and some speaking Russian -- had conquered the American embassy.

What was going on here? Did the Rev. Khomeini not realize that Nov. 4 was a very special day for America? Not only was it Walter cronkite's birthday, nor was it only the eve of Susan B. Anthony's arrest for attempting to vote in Rochester, N.Y., way back in 1872. It was actually the first in the greatest week in American history, the week in which Teddy declares his candidacy, much to the relief of millions of lowly Americanos. Thanks to the ayatollah, this momentous event was obscured. What a screw-up!

An American embassy can be overrun anytime; a Kennedy candidacy can only be declared after much drama. All the stars of the heavens must be in place. Chicken entrails have to be read. Camelot is a fantastic thing, and all sorts of weird readings have to be taken so that the Camelotian oratory can be fine-tuned to every maudlin and goofball impulse in the land. Weeks of planning had gone into Teddy's declaration, and now the ayatollah's dyspepsia banishes him to the status of a second-rank news story. You can be sure that Teddy was angry. Even Arthur Schlesinger must have been distressed, and he is an especially sanguine Camelotian. Forget not the August issue of McCall's wherein Prof. Schlesinger faced squarely the scabrous issue of Chappaquiddick and declared that this watery contretemps "would make him a better president" -- much as FDR's polio made him a better president. It takes a lot to wobble Prof. Schlesinger.

As I see it, Teddy ought not to be so hard on the Rev. Khomeini. Having taken Teddy's announcement speech to my prayer chamber and read the document aloud many times, it is my judgment that if the holy man of old Qom did no other American a favor last week, he did one for Teddy. The speech was a lovely bouquet of poetry but, as with all poetry, it was without sense. Six drunks arguing in a Prince George's drunk tank are capable of more awesome ratiocinations. A dozen mad dogs howling at the moon pass on more facts. Andy Young, full of LSD and The Thoughts of Chairman Mao, would sound more the statesman. I like Teddy, and I do not want to see him unhorsed so early; possibly the Rev. Khomeini does too.

In Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, with stone busts of patriots peering down on him, declared that it was time to get the nation "on the march again." The statues did not wink. "I believe in the hope and daring that have made this country great," he enthused, and the heads looked on in silence. The crowd was made up of Camelotians old and new, and so the sweat began to pour and women were heard to sigh. "This country is not prepared to sound retreat. It is ready to advance. It is willing to make a stand." Halston prints were swaying back and forth. Gucci loafers pounded Faneuil Hall's old floors. For 17 gorgeous minutes the new Massachusetts messiah solemnized. Full of 20-year-old Camelotian gasconade, he crooned and fulminated. All the weird challenges to fate were there. All the hifalutin intentions were sounded. It was purest Camelotian bunk; when Arthur Schlesinger heard it, my guess is that a flight of butterflies took off in his maw.

Yet in Tehran our embassy had been overrun. At home people with whom Sen. Kennedy has been perfectly congenial for years were advocating mature inaction. And thanks to the enlightened diplomacy and the progressive defense policy they have besotted us with -- policies that differ from Sen. Kennedy's only in degree -- inaction was about all that was available.

The ayatollah's headline-grabbing actions saved Teddy from some very embarrassing exposure. Where, after all, would he have us march? How would he have us "make a stand" and over what? it is time that he and his fellow pontificators of good intentions and blah caught on. The scondrels of this world are wise to our empty rhetoric. When does a nation cease to be a

When does a nation cease to be a great power? It ceases to be a great power when it can no longer protect its embassies or even respond diplomatically to an embassy takeover.