The beauty of being a political pundit in Washington is that you can predict what the voter is going to do in an election -- then when he doesn't do it, you can explain why he was wrong.
Last week I was out exit-polling in the neighborhood when I saw a voter come out of our local school. He was holding a ballot slip that he had made into a paper airplane. He was trying to get it to fly.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
He said, "I'm sending a message to Washington. Contrary to predictions, I'm not mad as hell and I am still willing to take it some more."
"Good for you," I told him. "Does this mean that you have not turned your back on the incumbent?"
"Yes and no. I decided to give him another chance, but I'm not going to give him a standing ovation. If he screws up one more time he's out."
"All the conventional wisdom indicated that voters like you wanted to throw the rascals down the stairs."
He said, "We did feel that way, but then we saw the incumbents' TV commercials. We were so impressed with their sincerity and their desire to serve this country to the best of their ability. We were also persuaded that their opponents were thieves, oddballs and soft on crime."
"How did you find that out?" I asked.
"By watching the same incumbents' commercials -- hey, who are you?" he suddenly wanted to know.
"I'm an exit-poller," I said. "I'm one of the people who takes the political pulse of the American electorate every other November. Frankly you have surprised and disappointed me. In my column I predicted that you were so fed up with Washington you were going to overthrow the government by force."
"I hate partisan bickering. You're lucky that I even came out to vote. I left the house in the middle of 'People's Court' to be here. You pundits think that just because congressmen and senators act like a bunch of jokers, the man in the street is going to exchange them for another bunch of jokers. Voting is like going to the dentist -- you try not to think about it and all you want to do is get it over with."
"Would you like to tell me who you voted for?"
"You don't know his name!"
"He's the one who keeps kissing babies, even though he looks as if he doesn't mean it."
"Why him over the other candidate?"
"The opposition kissed off the country as if he didn't mean it."
"Do you see your vote as a warning to the politicians in Washington that if they don't straighten up and fly right, you will give them their walking papers in 1992?"
"I never thought about it. Why do you ask?"
"Because I'm putting that in my column next week and I would hate to be wrong again."
"I'd love to get this paper ballot to fly," he said.
"What do you dislike most about voting?"
"The exit-pollers. They're really a pain in the butt. By the time you get finished talking with them, the parking meter has run out and you wind up with a ticket."
"Exit-polling is essential to an American election. Without it we pundits would never know why Catholics who make more than $80,000 a year, and live in a detached house with one dog and two children, voted against Proposition 144, which gave gas stations the right to sell knitted sweaters on Sundays."