Sunday's front page told us how Washington's residents feel about Marion Barry and about his performance as mayor.
The Washington Post's polls are never one-dimensional glances at public opinion. They go much further than asking the simple question,"Are you likely to vote for this fellow the next time he runs?"
Washington Post polls dig deep. They want to know why people rate a politician good, bad or indifferent.
I read poll results with mixed feelings. Sometimes they give me new insights. And sometimes they leave me wondering, "What did the public expect -- a miracle worker?"
Some answers given to pollsters are predictable, but others surprise me. In the current poll, for example, many people said Barry cares more about "moneyed" people "like him" than he does about the poor and the elderly. In a city in which thousands of residents live from one paycheck to the next, or from one pension or benefit check to the next, it could have been forecast that Barry's attempts to balance the budget would be unpopular.
On the other hand, I was genuinely surprised to read of a related finding. Although almost half of those polled own their own homes, 54 percent said they would prefer to pay increased property taxes rather than lay off city workers and reduce services. Only 17 percent took the opposite view (a 3-to-1 margin for higher taxes), and 15 percent favored a mixture of increased taxes and reduced services.
It would be interesting to know whether those property owners were thinking primarily about maintaining city services to the poor, the sick and the elderly; whether they were willing to pay higher real estate taxes because they wanted to maintain the police and fire protection for themselves and an adequate School System for their children; or whether the motivation for their answers was a combination of the altruistic and selfish.
Calling Mayor Barry one of Our Town's "moneyed" people struck me as an unsophisticated appraisal. "Moneyed" means wealthy -- having a pile of money socked away. All Barry has is a good job and a mortgage. After the next election, he'll still have the mortgage, but if our poll is accurate he may not have a good job. Or any job.
This brings me again to a question that has puzzled me before: Why do people make the conscious decision to become professional politicians?
They know that in the long run the voters who once loved them enough to elect them and throw them out. Being a politician is like being a baseball manager or a star quarterback. You know that eventually you're almost certain to be fired.
The answer to my question, I suppose, is that while you hold the office, you're numero uno -- the boss. The pay is good, the perks are excellent, people look up to you, and with luck you might turn out to be a Tom Landry or a Franklin D. Roosevelt and hold on to the job for life.
Statistically, however, one is more likely to fly to the moon than to become a four-term persident or a football coach who holds the same NFL coaching job for life. These realities must surely come to the attention of men and women who are deciding whether they want to try to make a career of politics, and it also must be plain to them that an attempt to make statesmanlike decisions can lead to defeat and ruin.
Winston Churchill's program of blood, sweat and tears made him a popular hero and saved Britain from imminent defeat, but the memory of that austere era put an end to his political power just as soon as disaster had been averted.
Marion Barry is no Churchill except in the sense that he took command in troubled times and had a little to offer his constituency except sweat and tears, plus an attempt to minimize the shedding of blood.
If he didn't know it before, Barry knows now that a politician wins few Brownie points with a fiscally responsible program that asks people to make sacrifices.
However, all is not lost, Mr. Mayor. If the voters kick you out at the next election, I know of one job for which you are already well suited.
Now that you have become accustomed to having dead cats flung at you, you might give some thought to becoming a newspaper columnist.
The work is easy, copy editiors protect you from error, and best of all you don't have to be diplomatic. You can say what you think.