"Hubert Humphrey Building," I told the cabbie. "That's the Depar -- "

"Save your breath, mister," the cabbie interrupted. "I know my way around this town. So what's going on over at the Department of Sickness and Inhuman Disservice?"

"I suppose you think that's funny," I told him. "Well, this time your humor's a little off base. The Department of Health and Human Services is the one federal agency that you carping liberals ought to be grateful for. True, they took the name 'welfare' out of the title, but they're still forking out money at a rate that would make Cap Weinberger blush."

"Maybe so," he said, "but that will come to a screeching halt now that the Reagan inner circle has fired Margaret Heckler."

So that's what was bugging him! I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and explain a few facts to him.

"I don't know where you cabbies get your information," I told him, "but Heckler was not fired. Far from it. The president offered her a promotion. He's so impressed with her that he wanted to make her ambassador to Ireland. But you, with your anti-Reagan bias, want to make it something negative."

"You mean she was doing a good job?"

"That's precisely what I mean," I told him. "Peg Heckler is the one who insisted that, no matter what budget cuts were made, there must be a 'safety net' for the desperately poor. It was Heckler who fought for money for AIDS, even though the majority of its victims are homosexual. She stood up to David Stockman when he wanted to slash her budget for social programs. The woman has been called the administration's 'voice of compassion.'

"Now I see why she had to go," the cabbie said. "The lady was definitely not on the team."

"Again you've got it wrong," I told him. "She campaigned for Reagan's reelection. She backed him on every major issue."

"But she wasn't a counterrevolutionary," he said. "She wasn't like Brad Reynolds, who became assistant attorney general for civil rights so he could dismantle civil rights enforcement. She wasn't like the Reagan appointees to the Civil Rights Commission who have been fighting against minority interests ever since they've been there. She wasn't like the people who came to the Environmental Protection Agency in order to protect polluters, or the secretaries of education and energy who looked for ways to put their agencies out of business. Heckler took her assignment seriously. No doubt they'll replace her with somebody who's fundamentally opposed to both health and human services."

I've never seen a man who could get things so completely, so consistently wrong, and I told him so. Not only was he libeling the president and any number of fine civil servants, but he was also defaming Heckler, whom he professed to admire, by persisting in the fiction that she had been fired.

"Didn't you hear what the president himself said -- that 'there has never been any thought in my mind of firing Margaret Heckler'? Can't you get it through your head that he called her to the White House to offer her a new career opportunity? The president himself called it a 'promotion.'

"Looks like I had it all wrong," the cabbie said. "So she's been promoted, huh?"

"She was."

"And if she had turned down the promotion?"

"Then I'm sure they would have found something else for her."

"In other words, she would have been out of her old job no matter what," he said. "Boy, you sure have an interesting way of explaining things. Don Regan and the other heavy-hitters don't like the job she's been doing, so they 'promote' her, right? Well, please don't ever complain about the way I drive this hack. The boss might promote me, and things are tight enough already."