A Whirlwind Tour of Inauguration Day


Republicans kicked up their heels over the weekend in a frenzy of partying to celebrate George W. Bush's inauguration as the 43rd President of the United States. Here are a few glimpses of the event that you didn't see on TV.

"Yes, Virginia, the vast Right Wing Conspiracy did exist all along," roared conservative activist Brent Bozell, some 40 hours and 30 minutes before the end of the Clinton Administration. "And [there are] two more days to revel in the politics of personal destruction.... We still have a couple of days left before Compassionate Conservatism kicks in."

At points during George W. Bush's inaugural weekend, it seemed that Republicans -- particularly the party's conservative wing -- was getting more pleasure out of Bill Clinton's departure than from the arrival of the Texas Republican. The jolliest Clinton-bashing fete by far was sponsored by Bozell's Media Research Center, a conservative organization that keeps a close eye on the alleged liberal leanings of the Media Elite. The MRC event was billed as a Clinton funeral. Right wing icons from Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell to Fifties' pop sensation Pat Boone toasted the fall of their nemesis in the White House. The mood was festive. As author/commentator Christopher Buckley noted in his "eulogy": "I came to bury Clinton, not to braise him."

Clinton's "casket" was surrounded by flowers and special greetings from "Monica." While toasting the soon-to-be-ex-President with a glass of milk, 50s-era crooner Boone described Clinton as "a combination of John F. Kennedy, Elvis, Warren Beatty, and Wilt Chamberlain." He smugly suggested that Clinton had a future as an actor, playing "Dracula, the original comeback kid." It was "the role he was born to play," Boone said.

Buckley brought the crowd to its feet by borrowing a famous line from Martin Luther King Jr.: "Free at last. Free at last. Thank God Almighty we're free at last." It was perhaps the only time that the conservatives in attendance have ever given Martin Luther King a standing ovation.

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But it wasn't only conservative Republicans who were celebrating the transfer of power. On Jan. 19, gay Republicans announced formation of a new group aimed at encouraging greater tolerance of homosexuals in the GOP. For years, Religious Right leaders in the party have denounced gays and lesbians as sinful or worse.

Among the prominent Republicans endorsing the new gay/straight coalition: White House Counselor Mary Matalin, former Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming, Representative Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.), a free-trade stalwart in Congress and the only openly gay Republican.

Davis, a leading GOP moderate, told the breakfast audience that it was imperative for Republicans to recruit diverse candidates if they hoped to maintain control of Congress in 2002. Simpson, known by many for his emotional defense of embattled GOP judicial nominees such as Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork, delivered a heart-felt plea for Republicans to make sexual orientation "a nonissue" in the future. Simpson said he was radicalized "by the terrible anguish of the Matthew Shepard case in my native state," referring to the brutal murder of a gay college student.

While most of Republicans in attendance refrained from bashing the party's right wing, Washington (D.C.) council member David Catania, a gay Republican, blasted the 2000 Republican platform. "At this point, the Republican Party's treatment of gays and lesbians is at best unacceptable and at worst distasteful," he said. But most gay Republicans predicted that President Bush would unite the party and convince the right wing to tone down its gay-bashing rhetoric.

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Best joke of the weekend: Alan Simpson's take on the proper pronunciation of Vice-President Dick Cheney's last name.

There's a raging debate in certain circles over whether the name is pronounced CHAY-nee or CHEE-nee. Simpson, who has known Cheney for 35 years, said he put the question to the Veep's Uncle Henry when they bumped into each other in a park recently in Casper, Wyo.

Uncle Henry was emphatic. "It's CHEE-nee," he told Simpson, according to the ex-senator. Then Simpson asked Uncle Henry what kind of dog he was walking. "It's a bagel," Uncle Henry responded.

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The hottest ticket in town was the Texas State Society's Black Tie & Boots gala the night before the swearing-in. Treasured ducats were listed for more than $7,000 on Web auction sites. In the end, more than 11,000 Texans and Lone Star wannabes crowded into the Marriott Wardman Park hotel for a shining example of Texas excess.

Party-goers could get their pictures taken with Bevo, the Longhorn mascot of the University of Texas at Austin. Or with a couple of horses. Or at a simulated oil well in the hotel lobby. Or in front of a display memoralizing the new President's stint in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. (Defense giant Lockheed Martin proudly displayed photos of a uniformed Bush in action.) Guests received a patriotic party favor: a carving of an American eagle. Made in China, of course.

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Laura Bush decided to forgo the usual personal tribute to the new First Lady. Instead, the former librarian used the opportunity to tout her favorite cause: Reading. Mrs. Bush hosted a "Salute to American Authors," featuring five of the country's most-acclaimed writers.

The venue remains a bit controversial: the Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall. Six decades ago, the DAR earned a place in infamy when it barred opera singer Marian Anderson from appearing at Constitution Hall because of her race. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt then arranged for Anderson to perform at the nearby Lincoln Memorial.

The Anderson controversy may be long-gone, but it hasn't been forgotten. During the First Lady's event, historian Steven Ambrose recalled that his mother had been a member of the DAR. Minutes later, esteemed jazz critic Stanley Crouch, who happens to be an African American, alluded to the Anderson incident and noted how things really had changed at Constitution Hall.

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Tickets to every inaugural event were hard to come by, but many of the events featured thousands of empty seats. At Friday afternoon's "Salute to Youth" concert at Washington's downtown sports arena, for example, at least one-third of the venue was vacant, even though the Presidential Inaugural Committee called the event a sellout. Ditto the "Salute to American Authors."

Why the rash of no-shows? Some of it was the weather: Persistent rain, wind, and cold wasn't compatible with fun and furs. But another reason was that revelers hoarded tickets and then waited to see whether a better offer came along before deciding to attend a ticketed event.

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President Clinton's relations with the American military were strained at times. So it's no surprise that one of the most raucous events of the weekend was Vice-President Dick Cheney's "Salute to America's Military." Among the celebrity participants: actors Robert Conrad and Gerald McRaney, ex-star of TV's Major Dad. McRaney told the audience that "help is on the way" after two terms of Clintonism.

Among those honored: War heroes who went on to serve in elective office, including former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, and Arizona Senator John McCain. The event was bittersweet for McCain, who lost a heated primary battle to Bush. McCain, a Vietnam War fighter pilot and war prisoner, saluted "my good friend" Dick Cheney and "many American heroes" who had served in the military. Dole tipped his hat to three Presidents whom he called war heroes: Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter. Alas, Dole overlooked former President George Bush, whose fighter plane was shot down over the Pacific during World War II. Oops.

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Washington Wags are dubbing the Bush Presidency "The Restoration," following eight years of a cultural revolution in the White House. One noticeable difference during the weekend: the dearth of Hollywood celebrities. Clinton was a glitz magnet, attracting the likes of Barbra Streisand and Stevie Wonder. Bush's celeb list was decidedly B Team. Among the top Hollywood names: ex-child actor Rick (formerly Ricky) Schroder, now a regular on NYPD Blue, the husband-and-wife actor team of McRaney and Delta Burke, and Frasier star Kelsey Grammer.

At the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, the same spot occupied in the past by Candice Bergen and other Hollywood glamour names was filled instead by military escorts -- another apt symbol of the changing of the guard. Standing all by his lonesome, Schroder snapped keepsake photos from a stairway, stage right.

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Bush's first day as President concluded with eight inaugural balls. The new President slipped quickly into and out of each of the black-tie affairs. He said a few words -- very few, this is not Bill Clinton, remember -- danced a few steps, and vanished into the snowy Washington night.

But the revelers didn't need Bush to be in attendance to know that Bill Clinton's Washington existed no more. At the California ball, for instance, Marie Osmond, Meat Loaf, and Pat Sajak -- good Republicans all -- hailed the new chief. And the band struck up a rousing rendition of I Will Survive to mark the GOP's ability to withstand eight years of Bill Clinton.

Over at the Texas/Wyoming ball, a favorite tune was a new version of New York, New York, made famous by Frank Sinatra, refashioned a bit to needle the now ex-President. Instead of the revelers belting out "These little town blues, are melting away," the Republicans all sang "These Arkansas blues...are going away." At least that's what they hoped. Clinton, the Dracula of modern American politics, and his spouse, New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, might still have something to say about that. Compiled by Richard A. Dunham


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