The probable effects of President Carter's address on energy is to reinforce existing anti-Washington, D.C., sentiment throughout the nation.
It will be remembered as a serious setback to the drive to secure ratification of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment by the states.
"Washington, D.C., has become an island," the president warned.
Indeed, the lynchpin of the 1976 Carter presidential campaign, his presidency and his bid to sustain that presidency is his consuming passion to portray "Washington, D.C.," as a bloodless abstraction of power and arrogance.
In Carter's Washington, D.C., there are no people, only bureaucrats; no patriots, only malefactors of opinion.
Carter's Washington, D.C., is not a city made up of mainstreets and neighborhoods, peopled by waiters, truck drivers, secretaries and technicians, but rather, a wheel, grinding down the good citizens of the nation, made up of many cogs.
That is pretty much the same assessment of Washington, D.C., a delegate to the Maryland General Assembly from the Eastern Shore shared with me before he and his entire delegation voted to kill ratification of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment during the 1979 session. That is pretty much what opponents to ratification of D.C. Voting Rights in state legislatures throughout the nation have been claiming all along.
It is precisely this image of "Washington, D.C." - the one that President Carter is working so deliberately to project - that many of us in legislatures across the nation have been attempting to dispel with limited success.
State legislatures are not going to ratify an amendment granting voting rights to an "island" - parochial and unatuned to the true interests and feelings in the rest of the nation.
The Maryland legislature is a good case in point.
During the 1979 General Assembly, I co-sponsored the resolution to ratify the proposed D.C. Voting Rights Amendment. I spoke for it on the floor of the House and lobbied for its passage.
The resolution was not defeated because of bigotry, the gun lobby or anti-abortion forces, although each contributed something to its ultimate defeat. Voting rights for citizens of the District of Columbia was defeated on three separate occasions because many of the delegates share President Carter's perception of Washington, D.C.
His description of Washington, D.C., as a "island" and the argument made by opponents of ratification that extending voting rights to the District will require us next to extend voting rights to Guam proceed from similar assumptions about the District of Columbia, its citizens and their loyalties.
But does the president really mean Washington, D.C., when he lashes out against "Washington, D.C.," or does he use the term as a code word for something else?
It would be a serious mistake for supporters of the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment not to comprehend what the president means and intends when he flouts "Washington, D.C.," and how it is being perceived in state legislatures throughout the nation.
Neither would I discount the recent statement made by the president's chief aide and confidant that the people of the District of Columbia deserve the long gas lines they were sitting in. It was an illuminating remark.
The most generous estimate of what the president means is that he would like to attack the Congress, but that the difficulties a Democratic president would face in attacking a Democratic Congress would make it unthinkable.
However, it is evident that, when the president condemns "Washington, D.C.," he means something more than the Congress. He is including the federal agencies and the people in those agencies. He is including the whoe array of nongovernmental professionals and consultants who work with Congress and the agencies. He is including the social culture of the city with which he feels uncomfortable. He is including many people who work, live and recreate in the city, or near it.
The president is yet to make a distinction between a "good" Washington, D.C., presumably deserving of voting rights, and a "bad" Washington, D.C., unrepentant and undeserving.
However, one thing is very clear: Whatever else he may think about the good citizens not involved in pernicious activities, he believes them to be insignificant to the city when compared with the people and institutions he has chosen to identify and publicize through his anti-Washington, D.C., campaign.
The opponents of the D.C. Voting Rights Amendment will agree with the President once again. Sure, they'll say, there may be some ordinary citizens living in the District of Columbia, but the real Washington, D.C., is the one that president Carter has placed his finger on.
The president's personal commitment to the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment is not to be doubted. But neither should the effects of his anti-Washington, D.C., campaign on its prospects for passage.
The president will not abandon this theme. It has been a useful and effective device. The president knows this. He is a good campaigner, and at the very time that state legislatures are considering and reconsidering D.C. voting rights, he will be whistle-stopping across the nation, trumpeting the message that Washington, D.C., is to blame for practically everything.
It is not racial prejudice that is killing voting rights for the District of Columbia across the nation. It is a conviction being reinforced by the chief executive of the nation that Washington, D.C., isn't worthy of receiving the vote or much of anything else.
Unless the political leaders of the District of Columbia wake up to what is happening, they will find the few supporters they have had in the state legislatures lowering their voices, swing votes lost to the opposition, the arguments of the opposition legitimized by a sitting president.
Admittedly, it may already be too late. CAPTION: Picture, "State legislatures are not going to ratify an amendment granting voting rights to an "island.""