IT HAS BECOME necessary to register a formal complaint about the weather -- although, as usual, it probably won't do much good. It's true that Washington is widely known for its unspeakable summers. Washington is to intolerable August weather what Bordeaux is to fine red wine. It's been a very cold summer, incidentally, in Bordeaux. But even in a normal year in Washington it's worse than Calcutta, worse than Khartoum -- and almost as bad as Houston.
Tourists come here from all over the country simply to be able to say they've been through it. Washington summers are expected to be unspeakable, and people take a certain interest in comparing one week's awfulness with another's. But at the risk of bruising local sensitivities and perhaps even injuring the tourist trade, we have to say that things this year have gone too far.
Historians sometimes claim it was World War II that changed forever the previously leisurely rhythms of Washington politics. That's wrong. It was air conditioning. In the 1920s, and usually throughout the 1930s, Congress sensibly closed up shop in June and fled to cooler and more hospitable climates. President Coolidge once spent the summer in South Dakota, where he was memorably photographed in a cowboy suit.
Why, you might ask, were the Hundred Days that began the New Deal not 150 days? Because 100 days after President Roosevelt's inauguration was mid-June, and it was getting too hot to stay in Washington. The president went to Boston, got in his boat and with several friends sailed it up to Campobello. That was only a normally intolerable summer. The present congressional session would have been hastily abrogated six weeks ago if the Capitol weren't air conditioned.
Seaking of history, it is already clear that history is being made this season. July was the hottest month here since the Weather Bureau went into business, and August may well outdo it. If there were a Weather Olympics, Washington would now be a contender for the gold medal. That's a consoling thought, as you pant along the sidewalk, staggering from one patch of muggy shade to the next. There are all-time records yet to be set, and this is the summer that can set them. It's not just miserably uncomfortable, dangerous, brutal weather. It may yet turn out to be the most uncomfortable, dangerous, brutal Washington summer ever recorded. That's surely a goal worth aiming at. Why not the worst?"