"I CAN'T THINK of a better place for gas lines than Washington, D.C. No place should have longer gas lines than Washingtion . . . We're suffering because of the way Washington has been behaving for the past several years." Who, would you guess, spoke those hostile and wounding lines? Ronald Reagan is more courtly; even John Connally is gentler. It doesn't sound quite like Spiro Agnew.
Indeed, it was Jody Powell, spokesman for the White House and press secretary to President Outsider. There was hope, earlier, for a truce between this city and Mr. Carter's extended family, when they all came here to live. But the truce keeps collapsing.
Mr. Powell is seized by the Washington of campaign imagery. It is a city that exists only on the mental landscape, but casts a long shadow there - a city implacable and secret. It is the Washington of the lobbyists and the bureaucracy, infinitely experienced and willful, knowing no pleasure but to slice up a new president's good intentions. And it is the hysterical Washington of the news business, seizing each fragment as it leaks and serving it up, inside out and upside down, on tomorrow's front page. Those are a bad bunch, those Washingtons. May they sit in line forever.
But just a minute. Let's step back into reality for a moment, and to the Washington that is no metaphor but a real city of people trying to earn a living and get along together. That, after all, is the Washington that currently spends its early morning hours in Gasoline lines.
Those people in the gas lines aren't quite the same ones that hashed up Mr. Carter's energy plan. Spokesman Powell suggests that the plan was the victim of a great struggle between the president and Washington. The view from Washington is that the energy plan got caught in a fight between Louisiana and Massachusetts, and a fight between Wyoming and Ohio, not to mention the one between California and the East Coast.
It is true that Washington have sometimes thoughtlessly driven to the shore for reasons other than strict necessity and often drove their cars to the store instead of riding their bikes. If they have sinned, they now have ample opportunity to repent. But it was not Washingtonians who voted against Mr. Carter's position on decontrolling natural gas - either when he was against it, or later when he was for it. They didn't vote against his oil taxes, or his rationing plan. In fact, the last time the people around here voted on any federal question was in November 1976, when, if memory serves, most of them voted for him.