IN HIS talk of war, national conviction and economic growth, President Bush included a ringing definition of "the strength of democracy" -- but to lots of Americans almost within live earshot of his words, the ring was tinny. That strength of democracy, the president said, "is in the people and their communities. . . . We must return to families, communities, counties, cities, states and institutions of every kind the power to chart their own destiny." This, he went on, is "what America is all about." Whatever this may mean across the land, it has a long way to go before it will apply in the capital of what Mr. Bush so proudly hailed as "the only nation on this Earth that could assemble the forces of peace."

The people of the District of Columbia -- who have sent proportionately more men and women into those forces of peace than have been sent by all but three states -- had no power whatsoever in Congress to chart the destiny of their young citizens now risking their lives in the Gulf. The families of this American community -- who pay their federal taxes in proportionately heavy amounts -- have no member of the House or Senate to vote on any question that may come to the floor of either legislative body -- be it for war or even for how the local government of this city would like to spend its own local revenues.

If President Bush is passionate about turning power over to people and the elected governments closest to them, he need look no farther than the closest window. How can he or anyone in the chamber Tuesday evening who applauded his talk of a new world order not call as well for a new federal order that includes the residents of this jurisdiction in the representation that those of the 50 states consider their absolute constitutional right? Where, right here, is that "strength of democracy"?