"John Ashcroft went to the world capital of bigotry, Bob Jones University, and accepted an honorary degree," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), who later added, "They gave him a hood, and it was white and it had eye holes in it."
Frank was cheering up the folks at the American for Democratic Action's ball, Saturday night's hot ticket for those on the left side of the aisle. After the invitation-only send off for President Clinton at Andrews Air Force Base-"He worked the rope line as if to save his life, one Hill staffer who saw it told me, "it was sad"—the day wasn't long on activities for Democrats. As luck would have it, I snagged an invite while waiting to catch my first glimpse of President George W. Bush. I was standing in a doorway between 6th and 7th on Pennsylvania Ave. with the press secretary for ADA, a left-of-center advocacy group founded in 1947 by the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, and economist John Kenneth Galbraith. (Unlike other left-of center groups that modernized by calling themselves "progressive," the ADA still brags about being "liberal.")
The ADA has thrown an inaugural bash since the last true glory day of liberalism, Jimmy Carter's swearing-in back in '77. In a regular year, they'd expect 500 to take them up on their dirt-cheap $35 ticket. But the ADA was soon up to more than 900 people who wanted to put on an evening gown, a suit, or a tux, and come out to quaff $6.75 cocktails, wolf down roast beef and assorted vegetables, and play such party games as guessing how many chads filled an Utz pretzel barrel.
"Anybody who was doing well wouldn't be here," replied Arlene Halfon, a woman eligible for full membership status in AARP. I had asked her how she was doing. When I asked her and her husband, Al, about the day's event, the man of the house replied, "What event?" Arlene spent the day at Sharpton's counter-inaugural. Al watched Bush's swearing-in on TV.
Despite Arlene's quip, the party had plenty of positive energy (it was on the verge of ecstasy compared to the DNC Election Night bash, which had been in the exact same Mayflower ballroom). Rep. Frank maintained that Bush was only able to win the presidency, and the Republicans hold on to Congress by fooling voters into thinking they had Democratic positions on issues such as prescription drug coverage for seniors, regulating managed care companies, and a general concern for the poor. Frank didn't reserve all of his rapier wit for Ashcroft. He also turned it on Nader, saying, "I hope Ralph Nader and Gale Norton live happily ever after."
Still, Frank was generally positive, calling the Republicans makeover a "hypocrisy of the most delicious sort," and predicting that Bush would run into trouble as soon as his staff had to come up with a budget that makes good on his promises for tax cuts and compassionate social spending. "Institutionally, and unfairly, we may be in the minority," Frank told the crowd, pointing out that Gore and Nader combined garnered 3 million more votes than Bush. "But ideologically we're in the majority."
Frank's message was hammered home by an excellent band, "The Oxymorons," that kicked off its first set with an altered cover of the Rolling Stones tune, "You Can't Always Get What You Want." Shortly after, they followed up with John Hiatt's, "Slow Turning." Many were up and dancing and it's clear that, while they didn't get what they wanted, they are going to try to get what they need out of the next two years. Like Hiatt, they have no plans to "fade away."
At about 10:00 p.m, I caught a cab a few blocks east to the Wyndham Hotel, where the Web site Freerepublic.com was throwing one of the hottest ticket-though-unofficial-right-of-center parties. My first experience was dispiriting, and confirmed a feeling I had that Democrats party better in defeat than do Republicans in victory. Big-haired older ladies were resting on a stairwell, making only single-file entrances and exits possible. Yet once I got downstairs and inside the hall, I was disabused on any notion that the hard-core right. I learned why those ladies needed a rest.
"Count the White House Silverware," was the theme of the party and everyone was having an out-of-their minds good time. The place looked like a fraternity house, or at least the party pad of American for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist on a particularly rowdy night. Handmade signs adorned the room in a haphazard fashion. "Janet Reno is a Child Molester," and "Good Riddance to the Great Stainmaker," were two of the more charitable. Long lines backed up in front of the hosted bars, the food buffets were completely ravaged, and beer bottles and dirty plates were piled on any available surfaces.
The crowd was a little older, heavier, and whiter than the folks at ADA. It was also a lot happier. A blues-rock cover band kept the place rocking. According to Aaron Lukas, a trade policy analyst at the CATO Institute, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee was plucking the bass, which explains why he substituted Little Rock for Birmingham, in Lynyrd Skynyrd's paean to the pre-Civil Rights South, "Sweet Home Alabama." They followed that one up with the ditty about getting caught in flagrante delicto, "Gimme Three Steps." When the band broke into "Twist and Shout," the dance floor had no boundaries, with men and women alike spontaneously dancing promiscuously, the way that used to bother anti-rock crusaders back in the '50s. These folks may support Ashcroft, but it's hard to imagine that the two women who were salaciously twisting their way on the floor like bits on a Black & Decker drill share a party with the fellow who won't even dance.
There was little doubt that these folks were happy to see Clinton go, yet they were also unable to let go of the man who had channeled their righteousness for the last four years. CATO's Ed Hudgins was bothered by Clinton's narcissistic series of farewell events. Another woman was upset that Clinton saluted member of the military upon arriving in New York as if he was still the Commander In Chief.
And while there's anticipation of having an ally move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., the considerable energy spent hounding Clinton on his many missteps isn't likely to dissipate. "No Honeymoon! Cut my Taxes," read an official Freerepublic.com sign. If Bush expects to win these people over, he better get busy.