I am suffering from a strange affliction: a persistent delusion that public officials are just as smart as I am. Especially those near the top.

If I were to attend the meetings at which politicians formulate policy and had the inconclusive information and the flawed choices available to them and endured the pressure, their decisions would probably seem quite reasonable. If I disagreed with their decision, I would still find it understandable.

Obviously I am in need of therapy. With the invaluable benefit of hindsight, all normal people can see that public officials are usually stupid when they do whatever they do. No sooner is a decision found to have some adverse consequence than a chorus of critics gives us three compelling reasons why people in their right minds should have known better.

My hallucinations lead to such lamentable results as believing that the decision to admit the shah on humanitarian grounds was one that reasonable people could reasonably make. I will not be eager to crucify anyone even if things turn out badly.

No matter what Congress finally does about the windfall profits tax, I sympathize with its dogged efforts to mediate between experts who learnedly prove that the oil companies need more money to carry out worldwide oil exploration and equally learned experts who prove that the public is getting a royal rip-off. Having seen the experts proved wrong far more often than right, I happily conclude that one group of experts may be as right -- or as wrong -- as another. So I give Congress a B for effort.

Afghanistan? I don't know if any American president could have prevented the Russian invasion, even if he had acted on CIA warnings. The CIA, like the experts, is wrong so often that I can't blame a president for not reacting to each of its neverending series of alarms. As long as a president reacts in a reasonably intelligent manner to a troublesome event abroad, I'm prepared to hold my fire.

Besides, as a political scientist and a former editorial writer, I'm acutely aware that it's no trick whatever to write a column or an editorial deploring the judgment of public officials on almost anything. I reserve my condemnation for megastupidities like Watergate, the napalming of helpless villagers in Vietnam or denying black folk a right to eat at lunch counters.

But giving politicians the benefit of the doubt exasperates my colleagues, neighbors and bowling partners. They regard it as palpably un-American -- if not evidence of irreversible brain damage. It sounds as if I'm blaming our troubles on the frailties of the human race -- a patently silly notion, and not much fun.

Still, friends say I am not without hope. On occasion, they find me berating the administration or the Supreme Court or a congressional committee for doing something my viscera disapprove of -- even though it would take only 30 seconds to discover that my knowledge of the issue is pathetically thin.

So maybe the therapy won't take long. I hope not. Considering the pleasure my friends get out of knocking the government, day in and day out, I'm obviously missing a lot.