The Huns were driven back once more, but the thing you wonder about is why the richest sections of town voted 4 to 1 against the "tax credit" that had been proposed for families sending their kids to private schools.

"They voted against their own pocketbooks," said a Romantic whom I know, referring to the rich who turned down this tax break.

Like hell they did.

If it costs a good many thousand bucks to send a kid off to prep school and if you get a tax break of $1,200, you may save $400. If your real estate tax then goes up 40 per- cent, and if the tax is already $2,000, you pay $800. Even the rich, who are not supposed to be intellectuals, can figure that out.

The poor, on the other hand, who defeated the measure 9 to 1, are trying to figure how to pay the rent. They have not given much thought to sending Tim to St. Paul's.

The tax-break proposal failed for the best (if most crass) of all reasons. No detectable element of the population could conceivably benefit from it, either financially or socially.

Wait. One element indeed might have profited: those who are prepared to start up kinky new schools at the drop of a buck. The ones that know how to shave every corner in education, beginning with the brains of the teachers.

They might, indeed, have profited from a public subsidy of substandard education, in which kids were taught nothing except raisin pie fell from the moon on the third day.

The voters of Washington evidently have had some experience in not throwing out the baby with the bath; in not cutting off their noses to spite their faces; and in asking what a great babble of fluff really means, apart from the slogans.

Which brings us to the central question: How does it happen that every election day without fail is craftily scheduled for precisely the one day in the month that you are running four hours behind; and in which you really cannot afford to take the time to brush your teeth, eat your breakfast, or laugh.

They know, down at election central, how to schedule it on those days. We all know that from experience. But the question is, how? How?

There are days -- we have all experienced this -- in which one has hopes for this republic. I am, needless to say, now turning away from politics.

"I hear you and Madame are going to England in December," I said to a Mississippi fellow over the weekend.

"Maybe," he said. "maybe not. It depends on the dog. Spot, as you know, is pretty old now. On his last legs. The vet says he just can't tell.

"There is no question of subjecting him to that six-month quarantine required of dogs entering England. He could never make it. Besides, even if he were in good shape, we'd never subject a dog to six months behind bars. Eating soggy brussels sprouts and the usual English garbage.

"But if he dies in time, we'll go to England. If he doesn't, then we won't."

Ah, so. A nation in which first things are put first, now and then, cannot be totally lost.

This was in Memphis. I ran into another sterling couple, from whom I learned of an unfortunate (but inspiring, as it turned out) event.

Rusty had a regrettable fondness for biting cops. They used to stop their squad cars for the stoplight, and Rusty would race out and bite the elbow of the cop whose arm was out the window. He was gorgeously turned on by cop-blue wool.

Usually, of course, the officers laughed it off. They had dogs of their own, and knew that every old pup has a quirk or two, and they never minded Rusty at all.

One day, however, a bad cop had the elbow of his uniform ripped out. He did not grin. He did not pat old Rusty. He leapt from the car, chased Rusty into the house, and announced he would shoot Rusty with his pistol.

"Lord," cried the housekeeper, clutching Rusty to her bosom, as it were (Rusty was quite large and unbosomclutchable, but you see the picture), and the housewife owner of the mutt was alerted by phone at Carmen's Beauty Salon, where she was getting her hair frizzed. She raced the three blocks with green smock and cape draped about her (not changing the protective garb the beauty shop had covered her with) and made a stirring Barbara Fritchie-type speech, widely believed in Memphis to have been a high point in dog eulogy. The cop was driven off, but threatened to return with warrants and legal paraphernalia.

"Look, lady," he said when he came back. "I'm going to take that dog or else I'm going to take your husband."

"BOBBY," screamed the wife to her husband upstairs. "This policeman wants you to go with him."

Never mind how it all turned out. (Negotiated out of court and not at all interesting.) The great thing was making the right choice in a split second. Never mind what the husband thought of his wife's noble offer to send him instead of the dog. ("I'da had to go, I guess.")

The readiness (of the wife to see her husband incarcerated for the next 20 years instead of the dog) is all.

There was also the case down there of a painful divorce. In the midst of it all, the family's dog was severely injured and had to live at the vet's for weeks. The husband and wife (each of whom was trying to obtain custody of the dog) wooed him shamefully, at different times of the day. The vet worked it out so they had different visiting hours. The husband went in the mornings and brought turkey, beef, lamb. The wife visited in the afternoon and brought ice cream, ice cream, ice cream.

The vet said the dog damn near died of stomach trouble. A wise counselor told me there might, originally, have been a chance of saving the marriage. But once the fight for the dog began, the old ball game was over.

So much for the news of mainline America. Now you can go back to your politics.