OTHER AREAS still aren't sure, but Washington knows that Ronald Reagan's new federalism means the end.
As all the things we used to do are transferred to the states, we'll be a ghost town, dead as Chelsea, as they say.
It will avail us nothing to set up a task force or a study commission. It won't do any good to launch a national campaign to save the Capitol. They have to destroy our city in order to save the country -- that's about what came out of President Reagan's State of the Union message the other day.
We must look at contingency plans.
You remember that the president, in his famous New York speech about voluntarism, suggested that if every church and synagogue in the country would average adopting 10 poor families "... we could eliminate all government welfare in this country."
Could Washington offer itself up for adoption? "Beautiful, misunderstood city with excellent Metro, cherry trees and Arts Center, seeks new home?"
That may not be, as we say here, "a viable option." One reason, of course, is that we use language like that. Another is that our most conspicuous citizen, the president, whoever he may be, is always telling people that we are not "real people."
So we will go the way of Rome and Pompeii, with tourists trudging through our empty, dusty buildings, lecturing their children about the corruption and extravagance that led to our ruin.
But if we can't sell ourselves as a package, maybe we could arrange for the orderly resettlement of our largest groups en masse. Not the poor, of course. But we must assume they will be left behind, as always.
Congress is easy. We pack it up and send it to Alaska. The reason? Alaska, awash in oil, has eliminated the income tax. Congress spends a considerable amount of time brooding over its returns. It is always voting itself exemptions in the dead of night when it hopes no one is looking.
Just a few weeks ago, it had to sneak a tax break for itself into the Black Lung Benefits bill. Someone found out about it.
If Congress simply relocated in Juneau, it would be relieved of the tedium of voting itself IRS loopholes. And it would have nothing to do. Ronald Reagan thinks it has passed too many laws already, and all constituent services will be in the hands of governors, mayors and county commissioners, and other people they were too busy to see when they were here. Congress can go ice-fishing.
Lobbyists are also no problem. They are shipped to Montana or Nevada, to be retrained as cow or sheep herders. The foreman would point to a wandering ram or straying calf and drawl, "Pahdner, that's a vote for an oil company tax break that's going off the reservation." The lobbyist would rassle the critter to the ground, which will be softer than the marble halls of previous roundups.
Journalists are easy, too. Send them to the heartland, that wonderful place of Ronald Reagan's fantasy, where people help one another and make nondeductible charitable contributions. Let some lofty scribbler who has been baiting the noble chief executive be set to writing paeans to the local gas company executive. Cut them down to size, these people who fabricated stories about guerrilla warfare in the Cabinet. Assign them to chronicling important local feuds, between, say, the leading Elk and Lion of Minot, N.D.
Lawyers are harder. Certain states might attempt to ban an influx of a class of people they associate with skulduggery. Some people believe that they should be sent to the about- to-be state legislatures, where they would most likely find their own kind and assist in the drafting of bills designed to put the poor in their place.
Others favor reeducation at the posher penal institutions where several figures once high in government have of late penned their memoirs. They could be jailhouse lawyers for other inmates. Still others believe that it is impossible to rehabilitate Washington lawyers and that they should be sent to "preventive detention camps."
The First Family could simply go on perpetual tour, visiting provinces where the new federalism is in full swing. The president could cut the ribbon at a country club raised by community effort and contributions, be photographed with county commissioners who have stamped out food stamps in their area.
The bureaucrats? It is doubtful that any state would simply close their borders to them. The United Nations might protest, and the Soviets could make propaganda saying it was a violation of the Helsinki Accords. Possibly if they can get relatives in other states to sponsor them, they could make it to Nebraska or Kansas. What would they do back home? They might as well grow African violets, drink coffee and read the papers -- that's what the country thinks they do anyway -- and drop the name of Lenny Skutnik whenever possible.