Today, Bill Clinton’s job is to inspire the nation. So on Sunday, he read poetry, studied great speeches and went to church twice.
But even the president could think great thoughts only for so long. This is, after all, a party.
Clinton closed the day at a star-studded gala featuring Kenny G, Aretha Franklin and the tap-dancing cast of the Broadway hit “Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da Funk.”
“Tomorrow, we will not just celebrate our democracy; we must also renew it,” Clinton told celebrants who had paid up to $3,000 each to attend the presidential inaugural gala.
At an appearance Sunday before Democratic activists, Clinton said the spirit he hopes to invoke in his inaugural address is only the beginning.
“I’ve run my last race, but we haven’t done all the work we need to do for our country or for the 21st century,” he said. “We have to maintain both a commitment to progress and a commitment to community.”
Even as Clinton spoke, thousands of people came from down the street and across the country to celebrate the nation or to think great thoughts with the likes of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
But many just wanted a good time at high-priced parties, high-stepping parades or with kid-show stars such as Barney the purple dinosaur.
Hundreds, listening to loudspeakers and waiting in the cold to see James Whitmore perform “Will Rogers” chuckled when he called Congress “the hired help” and sighed, “We pay them for wisdom and we get wind.”
At the evening gala, the inauguration’s first fancy-dress event, partygoers in glittering dresses and crisp tuxedos sipped champagne and munched popcorn and hot dogs while wandering the hallways of the USAir Arena.
Before the program began, ushers slipped up and down the aisles, asking guests with furs to stow them under their seats so the politically incorrect outerwear would not be visible to television viewers.
The attire was a good deal plainer at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, where, during the day, thousands of people stood in lines that wrapped around the building to hear the words of “great thinkers.”
Speaking in tones of a fire-and brimstone preacher, Harvard University professor Cornel West admonished Americans to confront their own inner darkness as the only way to transcend vengeance and division in the next millennium.
“There’s a white supremacist in me. There’s homophobia in me, as there is in all of us,” said West. “The question is whether I’m wrestling with it.”
Security will be tight for today’s swearing-in - the protectors have been even more zealous since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the bomb at last summer’s Olympics.
Among some of the precautions: closing streets, sealing manhole covers, reviewing the fastest routes to hospitals and prohibiting vendors from selling hot chocolate, hot dogs and hot pretzels on streets close to the parade route. Police say the propane tanks pose a security risk.