LET ME BE BLUNT. The temperature outside is supposed to be something like 100 and the humidity is about the same and the weather here in Washington all summer has been awful. It's hot and miserable and the people are grouchy and all the time everyone and their uncle is dumping on the city of Washington. So let me be blunt: Get offa our backs.
First it was Jody Powell, the president's press secretary, who thought, if that's the right word, that there was a certain justice in washington being hard hit by the gasoline shortage.It did not occur to him that maybe Houston, home of the oil companies should suffer or maybe just the people who work at the Department of Energy. No, it has to be all of Washington. In his book it is a vile and evil place. Lucky for him, he won't have to stay here much longer.
Next came Powell's boss, the president of the United States. It was he who decided to personify sloth and ineptitude as the entire city of Washington, thus using the city as others had used the South. A cheap shot is a cheap shot - QED and all the rest, n'est ce pas?
Now comes the city of Baltimore. It is in something of a snit because a Washingtonian, Edward Bennett Williams, has bought their baseball club, the Orioles. They think Fast Eddie will take the team to Washington where there is (1) no team, (2) a hunger for one, (3) a nice stadium, (4) a subway stop next to the stadium, (5) and a large and prosperous metropolitan area that will probably support a baseball team. Baltimore cannot be accused of paranoia.
But it more than worry. It hurls invective southward, talking through such spokesmen as politicians, newspaper columnists and other disreputable types, saying more or less, that Washington has stolen its team - bought it, used its clout, lured it away. It does not blame the former owner of the club for selling it and it does not blame itself for failing to support the team in a manner that would bring the owners and the profit they feel they so richly deserve. All of that would be too logical. Instead, it blames the city of Washington, already the favorite whipping boy of first Richard Nixon and now Jimmy Carter. Baltimore - the company you keep!
Now the thing about this Baltimore-Washington rivalry is that it is conducted in a fog of misconceptions. Baltimore, a city of charm which I happen to like a lot, sees itself as a muscular, brawny town - blue-collar and beer-drinking to the core and it pretends it does not have suburbs, universities or even, God forbid, the headquarters of the massive, paper-shuffing Social Security system. That is kept something of a secret.
As for Washington, it is painted as a town where people do not work with their hands and not quite with their brains either - but not at all. It is the town of paper shufflers and SOPers - diplomats, dilettantes and Democrats who would order Perrier water at the ballpark and insist on pate on a bun.
Forget for a moment that little of this is true, and instead concentrate on how much Baltimore and other Washington haters would love it to be true. The reason for this is that we are all still playing under the old Jeffersonian rules that hold that it is a far, far better thing to work with your hands than with your head. Thus, someone who works, say, for Bethelehem Steel and makes beer cans is thought to be morally superior to some Washington bureaucrat who, say, spends his day doing nothing more than to help Vietnamese refugees survive. It is assumed somehow that the Baltimore steelworker is deserving of a ball team and the Washington bureaucrat is not.
Just where this is written, I don't know, but I do know that neither Baltimore nor Jody Powell knows much about Washington. In the first place, you feel obliged to point out that the premier industry of this town is politics which, more than almost anything outside of sports, is about winning and losing. There are no safe harbors in politics and for all the bravado and swagger of some steelworker or dockhands, it is not he who puts his job, his ego and his pride on the line. No one posts the name of losers at Bethelehem Steel.
But all of this is nothing compared to the fundamental miscalculation about Washington that is so basic I don't even recognize the town as described by its critics. Sure I know it's affluent and sure I know it has plenty of French restaurants and sure it has been good to me and my newspaper. But I also know that hunks of it are middle class and lower class and much of it is very poor - poor and black.
It is not a town of millionaires and ambassadors from swishy capital, but of hard-working people - hard-working poor people. They are the ones Jody Powell thought should spend hours in the gas line and they are the ones who suffer in the heat and they are the ones, I just know, who would love on these hot nights to get out and go to a ball game. I'd like to go too, but we'll all have to wait.
In the meantime, get offa our backs.