Subject: Inaugural Kickoff
Date: January 19, 2001
Bush offered something for everyone at the Lincoln Memorial yesterday, where he and a host of other luminaries and entertainers kicked off the official inaugural events. Military enthusiasts no doubt had their hearts warmed—even if their fingers and toes were cold—by fighter and helicopter flyovers and parachuters who circled their way down to earth trailed by plumes of red smoke as military bands played each of the service's theme songs. Country music lovers got Brooks & Dunn, opera lovers got Denyce Graves, and the teams of teenyboppers got Ricky Martin. Muhammad Ali graced the stage for boxing fans; Wayne Newton did the same for Vegas lovers.
As seems to be Bush's genuine style, America's diversity was well-represented. Singers belted out renditions of "Amazing Grace" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing" along with the National Anthem. "America the Beautiful" was put to a salsa beat and embellished with Spanish.
Spirits were high among the less-than overwhelming crowd in the non-ticketed area, where I milled about in an attempt to stay warm. Ricky Martin was a huge draw, from the hundreds of teenyboppers carrying "I Love Ricky" signs passed out by a local radio station. Some had happened upon the festivities by accident. "We just came down to go to a museum, saw a cameraman, and followed him to hear Ricky Martin," said Laura Johnson, a senior criminal justice major at American University, who borrowed my cell phone to tell a friend about Martin's appearance.
But there was no mistaking that it was Bush's party. When his appearance was announced over the p.a. system, folks ran to get a glimpse of the next POTUS on the mega-video screens that flanked the reflecting pool. Joe and Carol Van De Walke had driven all the way from San Antonio to see the president they worked to elect get sworn into office. Joe, who sported a tan cowboy hat, admitted Bush wasn't a tough sell in Texas. No matter, they coveted their tough-to-get tickets to the hot "Black Tie and Cowboy Boots" ball. "It's too bad it had a belated ending," Van De Walke told me. "But he won it fair and square."
It turns out that Van De Walke, an importer of Mexican food products, expects to get something more than a black tie ball out of the Bush presidency. Bush, like him, is a big NAFTA supporter and he says Bush has promised to open up U.S. Highways to Mexican trucks, something Clinton has been unwilling to do.
Jack Mueller's been a Cheney man for a quarter century. The now-retired high school history teacher worked on Cheney's first congressional campaign and has been a supporter ever since. It's all about the parties, and Mueller's headed to the Wyoming Party tomorrow night. "So far it's a great show," said Mueller, who got a bit giddy during the 10-minute fireworks finale. He expects a change of direction from the Bush/Cheney regime. Said Mueller, "Honesty and decency are two things I expect to see." He also supports Bush's education agenda and thinks it's time to try school choice in areas with failing schools.
All this isn't to say that the partyers were unanimous in their enthusiasm for Bush. While I didn't encounter any organized protest, there were pockets of good old American partisan contempt. Forty-six-year-old Mike Eisner trekked down from Baltimore to sell "Hail to the Thief," bumper stickers for $1. By 5:30 he'd unloaded roughly 40. Not even all the Texans in attendance supported Bush. John Minor, a Lone Star resident bought two of Eisner's stickers for his car (he sported a baseball cap rather than a cowboy hat, a subtle clue he wasn't a member of the Bush Brigade). "I don't like fascism," he said, when I asked why he made the long trip with his wife and two children from Austin. "I'm going to protest the ascension of fascism."
This remark was more than Steve Jones could take. Jones was holding up a copy of Monday's Washington Times, the headline of which proclaimed that Bush, not Gore, was gaining votes from the media recounts in Florida. He'd already informed Eisner that the real thief was leaving office in two days. Jones wanted to make sure he rebutted the fascist charge to me, a member of the esteemed press. "Conservatism doesn't equal fascism," said Jones, who toils for the Department of Agriculture. "I believe I've been working for a president for the last eight years who's instituted more scandals, lies, and mistrust than any other in the century."
Bush soon stepped up to the microphone to make a few remarks and usher in the final act. He opened with a joke about Ricky Martin and Dick Cheney, attributing the crowd and its enthusiasm to their presence. The crowd busted up, including a blond woman in a red stocking cap who I'd earlier heard complaining about Bush. "That's the one thing I do like is his personality," she said with a smile. "That's the only thing."
Well that's something.