For those of us who live in and love Washington, the only thing better than the bracing election results Tuesday would have been seeing Marion Barry on the ballot and people voting overwhelmingly against him.

In a way, that's what happened. The electoral message of revulsion for the misdeeds of the Barry era that voters delivered was so strong and clear that no one could misunderstand it. So powerful, in fact, was it that the city's Democratic Party chairman publicly warned Barry to "get out of the {City} Council race right now" lest he suffer humiliating defeat at the polls in November.

All of this is most welcome. It explains the sense of exhilaration that has swept the capital in the wake of the reform-minded, clean-sweep, fresh-start victory by Sharon Pratt Dixon in the Democratic mayoral primary, a victory tantamount to election in this most Democratic of all American cities.

Dixon's campaign theme was simple and blunt. It was to bury the Barry legacy of political corruption and personal arrogance that has made Washington an object of national ridicule and caused its residents to cringe with shame. Her aim, she told voters, was to "clean house -- with a shovel, not a broom." The size of her victory and the record mayoral turnout leave no doubt that a majority of citizens agrees.

Much more than parochial pride in this political result is involved here. Cliche or not, Washington is a symbol for the nation, and in recent years the city's image could not have been more negative. During a recent trip to Britain, for instance, I was struck by the extent of questions about Barry. Nearly without exception, the same people who wanted first to know about America's intentions in the Persian Gulf crisis went on to ask about the Barry affair. These were not just Americans. Foreigners also knew all about the misdeeds of Marion Barry and wanted to know about their effect on the nation's capital.

So the voters' signal of a positive change in Washington's politics this week resonates far beyond the capital city.

Nor was this the only good sign to emerge from these voters. The political message from the surrounding suburbs also was strongly expressed. It was a protest vote against special-interest politics and against the mindless development sprawl that has made a mess of urban life even as it has enriched developers.

"It means the 1980s are over in Montgomery County," a county planning official told Washington Post staff writer Jo-Ann Armao, in explaining the surprising defeat of Sidney Kramer, the county executive, by Neal Potter, an anti-growth candidate seeking a tax on new development. "People are very nervous about what the future will be in the 1990s. The '90s will be a lot slower."

Similar evidence of voter protest against politics as usual and unchecked growth at the expense of quality of life can be found in voting results throughout the country. There are signs of a shift in the national mood. Americans appear to be taking stock, setting priorities at home, seeking to put the nation's own house in order after recognizing the mounting burdens of debt and unaddressed social and domestic problems bequeathed by the excesses of the '80s.

This new climate of national introspection should not be surprising. Even as Americans are beginning to wonder, and worry, about what their future holds at home, similar concerns are increasing about America's place in the new world order emerging so swiftly and confoundingly.

Behind the strong show of support for the massive U.S. military deployment in the Persian Gulf lie several troubling questions that threaten to sunder the present sense of public solidarity. Two are key: Who's going to pay for all this? Why aren't our allies doing more?

A third concern strikes even greater heat: Why should America continue to bear the principal burden for global security when its most prosperous former enemies, Japan and Germany, whom the United States helped to raise from the ashes of World War II, aren't paying their fair share?

The 370 to 53 House vote on an amendment to a pending defense expenditure bill Wednesday was explicit evidence of this new concern and anger. If adopted by Congress, it would require Japan to pay the entire annual cost of keeping U.S. troops and their dependents in Japan.

It was one more sign this week of national change. It suggests that Americans not only are looking inward but also outward as they assess a very different future in the 1990s.