The most interesting thing when you leave the nation's capital and travel around the country is that everyone believes that Washington has a mind of its own. I know this because I am asked such questions as "What does Washington think of Jimmy Carter?" or "How does Washington feel about Bert Lance?" or "When is Washington going to do something about my fuel bill?" or, if you're talking to business executives, the question inevitably is "Why doesn't Washington leave us alone?"
It is fruitless to explain to people that Washington doesn't think at all, and if it has any feelings it keeps them bottled up inside. A Washingtonian, whether he wants to or not is expected to tell the people in the country what Washington is up to.
I find the best way to do this is to ask the taxi driver who is driving me to the airport to give me a briefing on Washington's thoughts. All taxi drivers in Washington, before they take their cabs out on the street, are handed a mimeographed sheet entitled, "What Washington Is Thinking Today." Whenever they are asked a question they refer to the sheet and respond with the answer.
The other morning I was on my way to Boston and I said to my driver, "What does Washington think of Jimmy Carter today?"
He picked up his clipboard, "As of this morning he's in a lot of trouble with Congress on energy, the Panama Canal and tax reform. Washington feels that style is not enough. It wants results."
"Please don't go too fast. I want to write all this down," I told him. "What does Washington think about the three-martini lunch."
"Washington is for the three-martini lunch, though it's willing to compromise on a two-martini lunch if the grass roots put too much pressure on Congress. But it would rather do without lunch if Carter cuts it down to one martini."
"How does Washington feel about Moscow?"
"Washington doesn't trust Moscow," he said, reading from his sheet. "But it believes that it is important to get along with Moscow even if it can't love it. Washington does feel warmer toward Moscow this week than it did last week, but it is still holding its breath over SALT."
"How is Washington taking the South Korean scandal?" I asked.
"In its stride," the taxi driver replied, "Washington, of course, is very disappointed that Tongsun Park won't come back to testify, but it will have to live with other witnesses involved in the scandal. Washington doesn't belive it will have another Watergate on its hands, mainly because most of the people who will by indicted are no longer in Congress."
"Is Washington worried about the energy crisis?"
"Washington is worried about it but no panicking Washington wants to forget the whole thing until after the 1978 elections."
We were almost at the airport. "What does Washington think of our present tax laws?"
"It thinks they are a disgrace."
"One more question. What about sex in Washington?"
"Washington doesn't like sex any more than Los Angeles does. But it knows that as long as sex is available there is no way to stop Washington from having it. All one can hope for is that Washington will soon tire of it and get on with the business of running the country."
I gave the driver a large tip but it was worth it. After I finished speaking in Boston I received a standing ovation, and I heard one woman say to her husband as they were leaving the auditorium, "Isn't it great to hear what Washington is thinking straight from the horse's mouth?"