All right, boys and girls. This morning's lesson is on sportsmanship. Let me begin by asking what you should do when you find yourself in a tough ball game.
Correct. You follow the rules and play as hard as you can.
And what do you do when you outscore the opposition the first couple of innings?
Right again. You cheer your team on and try to hold your lead. What's that? Well, I suppose it's okay to hope that the game is called while you're still ahead, or that the other side will give up. But suppose they don't? What do you do if the other team catches up and proceeds to beat the daylights out of you?
Wrong. You do not ask the principal to take the ball and break up the game. Unless, of course, the game is "numbers" and your team is headed by Jerry Moore and William Spaulding.
As long as these two fanatical opponents of a city-run lottery were ahead, they were perfectly content to follow the rules. They scored early, with the help of members of the local clergy, by intimidating the city council, threatening them with electoral defeat.
It worked. Nobody on the council could work up the courage to introduce a bill to legalize the numbers here. But there is another rule that allows the people themselves to bypass the council.
The first time that rule was invoked, the people had placed on the ballot a referendum question calling for the legalization of lotteries, jai alai and dog racing. It lost. The people said it was too much.
The Bill and Jerry team had padded its lead.
But then the other side circulated another petition, this one calling for the legalization of numbers only. And this time the other side won. Overwhelmingly. Nearly 2 to 1.
And what did the two council members do? Why, they went directly to Congress to ask that these overlords put the local peasants back in their place.
"Legalized gambling is an issue of such importance, and will so affect the image of the nation's capital at home and abroad," they said, "it is imperative for Congress . . . to act to protect the moral fiber of our community."
And how should Congress do that? By overruling the clear, overwhelming wish of the people. In other words, by taking the ball and busting up the game.
Of course legalized gambling is an important issue. The people said that when they voted against dog tracks and jai alai frontons. They apparently thought these things would endanger the moral fiber of the community by attracting outside gambling interests.
But the people also said, after long and careful consideration of the issues raised by Moore and Spaulding, that they still wanted a local lottery.
The people knew what the two council zealots refuse to acknowledge: that betting on a long-shot number is no more immoral than betting on a long-shot issue in the stock market. At least in the case of numbers you know what the odds are.
The people knew, too, that Washington residents were going to play the numbers no matter what happened to the referendum. They play every day, both the illegal local game, on which no taxes are collected and whose profits go to gamblers, and the legal game in Maryland, in which millions of local dollars flow directly into the Maryland treasury.
Moore and Spaulding will entertain you with heart-rending stories about hungry babies and shoe-less schoolchildren rendered destitute by their parents' addition to numbers gambling.
I wouldn't dare suggest that these two moral purists are making these stories up. But I would ask you whether you have ever come across any of the pitiful cases yourself. I doubt it.
Moore and Spaulding, and others of their ilk, have got it in their heads that it is their responsibility not to encourage you in reasonable choices but to take away your right to make bad ones. They have appointed themselves the keepers of your private morals.
I can't really blame them for trying to sell you on their point of view. D.C. Del. Walter Fauntroy, who opposes numbers-playing as conscientiously as anyone, tried to. He preached, he cajoled, he ridiculed and, I'm afraid, he exaggerated a little.
But his holder of the safest elective seat in the city wouldn't join his fellow-moralists in their sore-loser effort to destroy local self-government. "I guess I have to say that I just haven't reached the point where I'm prepared to work against the majority will of the people," he said.
It's one thing to fight the good fight, quite another to refuse to acknowledge when you've lost. God grant Moore and Spaulding the grace to learn the difference.