WE HAVE FORBORNE to intervene in the spirited debate that has been going on in these pages concerning Benjamin Stein's August 4 op-ed article. Mr. Stein took the unexceptionable position that Washington in August is not only a wonderful and marvelous place to be, but also actually far preferable in August to somewhat breezier climes--such as, for example, Malibu where he has the present misfortune to be stuck. Some readers found this odd, others preposterous, still others demented. It of course makes perfect sense to us.
You will say: "And why should it not make sense to you or to anyone else who is in Washington at the moment: surely such people must have terminal cases of heatstroke by now, not to mention terminal cases of bad judgment to be there at all." You know what? We don't even mind this gratuitous slur on our faculties. In fact we welcome it. And we welcome it for a very specific reason. We intend to enter it as presumptive evidence that we very probably do exist.
This is not so obvious as it sounds. Our existence has been called increasingly into question in recent days, a libel far graver than that made against our lovely, zephyr-filled climate. For as everyone who inhabits this earthly paradise--Washington in August --knows, the principal challenge is to one's being. "There is nobody in Washington in August," one will hear the television commentators say. Or: "Everyone has left." Or: "You can't reach anyone. No one is there." The only difference, in their view, between the city of Washington and a city hit by a neutron bomb is that there is thought to be some hope of regeneration for this one. "People come back after Labor Day," our television tormentors explain. They do not say what form of life it is that is currently crawling around the streets.
There is something truly snobbish about the idea that you have to be on a Santa Barbara ranch or in an Eastern resort or a down-home congressional district to exist at all in the month of August. Most year- round Washingtonians are here. Mr. Stein was right to extol the charms of the place in August. We wouldn't miss it for the world. And we find it only mildly suspicious that, given the professed depth of his feelings, Mr. Stein himself has managed to spend yet another month of August in Malibu. Poor guy.