"Looks like the House has worked up the courage to pass a nuclear-freeze resolution," the cabbie said. "Well, it's about time."

"Bite your tongue," I said, so loud that the startled cabbie slammed on his brakes and almost made me bite mine. "Why do you think it's a good thing that some misguided members of the House want to help the Russians?"

"Help them how?"

"By locking in their nuclear superiority," I explained. "I don't mean to question your loyalty; it's just that I get so tired of well-meaning people making simple-minded proposals on questions they don't understand. They conveniently forget that nuclear arms are the only deterrent we have to Soviet aggression."

"You mean that if we had more and bigger nukes, the Soviets wouldn't have aggressed Afghanistan?" the cabbie said. "If MX had been in place, the Commies wouldn't have smashed Solidarity?"

That wasn't what I meant, I told the cabbie. I reminded him that, without denigrating Afghanistan or Poland, our major concern had to be Western Europe, where Soviet aggression could trigger Armageddon.

"The Soviets want Armageddon?" he asked.

"I don't know," I told him, "but if they hope to rule the world--and it is clear that they do--then Western Europe is the logical place to start."

"So how come they haven't started?"

"Because of our nuclear deterrence, dummy!" I explained as patiently as I could.

"So why wouldn't a freeze lock in that deterrence?" the cabbie asked.

"I suppose you trust the Russians to honor the freeze," I said. "That's the trouble with you mush- minded peace freaks. You are so intent on your simpleminded goals that you're prepared to disarm America."

"Actually, I wasn't thinking of disarming anybody," the cabbie said, "but now that you mention it, it would be a good idea, if both the United States and Russia got serious about reducing their nuclear stockpiles. But I suppose that's mush-minded thinking."

"Not at all," I assured him. In fact, the president believes strongly in mutual arms reduction. But fortunately for America, he understands that it doesn't make sense for us to bargain for arms reduction until we first catch up with the Russians. The Russians, not caring about peace except on their own terms, have been busy replacing their oldest missiles with the newest stuff they have."

"Wouldn't a freeze stop that?" he asked.

"Of course, but it would also stop us from catching up to them," I explained.

"Then why don't we negotiate a freeze and let them catch down to us?" he wanted to know.

I told him he was finally getting to the point. "If we freeze things with the Russians ahead, they would have no incentive to negotiate the mutual arms reduction that the president has in mind. If we caught up and passed them, they'd be interested in negotiating a freeze, followed by a reduction."

"But if they have caught up and passed us, why aren't we interested in negotiating a freeze, followed by a reduction?" he asked.

"Because they like it the way it is," I shouted.

"You're not making any sense," the cabbie said, "but I'll let that slide if you will tell me what we expect the Russians to be doing while we're catching up."

"Don't be a wise guy," I explained.

"Me?" he said. "I'm just a poor dumb cabbie. I just don't understand why you and the president think that the best way to get arms reduction is to have a big arms buildup. I keep thinking that if I wanted to back this cab up, the first thing I'd do is stop."