PRETEND THAT during the Senate confirmation hearings on his nomination to be the next secretary of energy, former South Carolina governor James Edwards made the following statements: "My philosophy is that the Department of Energy should serve as a strong spokesman for the energy industry"; or "Priority No. 1 is to improve profitability in drilling and refining."

Of course, Mr. Edwards made no such statements. And if he had, almost undoubtedly the loud cries of outrage and indignation that would have followed would have ensured former governor Edwards' becoming former nominee Edwards.

But strikingly similar statements were in fact made by a real, live Cabinet nominee before a Senate committee. None of this raised so much as a murmur, let alone an eyebrow. The speaker was John Block, the prospective secretary of agriculture.

Mr. Block's admitted No. 1 priority is improving the profitability in "farming" (not refining or drilling), and he wants to make the department he now heads into a "strong spokesman for the agricultural industry."

We point this out not because we are anti-agriculture or, as you might say, down on the farm, but rather to note the fact that not all Cabinet departments are created equal. People generally do think very differently about the energy business. The distrust level of the energy business, reported in public opinion polls, differs more in degree than in kind from the distrust of many other large industries. But no other business with its own Cabinet department -- other than agriculture, that is -- ever had as its advocate and champion and authentic American genius like the immortal Thomas Jefferson. Only a man so uniquely gifted as Jefferson could have persuaded subsequent generations of the perpetual dedication, nobility and decency of those who till the soil and of our continuing collective debt to their well-being.

Mr. Jefferson may have lost the argument about keeping ours a nation of farmers and small towns. But in one respect at least, the United States still clings romantically, some two centuries later, to his special faith in the integrity of those who till the soil.