Land of the free, home of the search
Sun., Jan. 23, 2005
WASHINGTON – I don’t know if Republicans attending Thursday’s inauguration all worked hard for their money. But I do know that they all worked hard to spend it.
The inauguration was simply grueling hard work.
Anyone who watched the inauguration on television knows that the weather gods thought snow would make a nice statement for the swearing in of the 44th president. And everyone knows it was cold. It’s January besides. We expect a little chill in the air and snuggle under blankies accordingly.
We do not, as a rule, trudge through miles of slush and frigid air in strapless gowns and Cinderella slippers, as thousands of sporting Republican women did. Sure, there was enough fur among the crowd to carpet the Arctic Circle, but even the “hirsuted” had blue lips.
That’s because, thanks to mind-boggling security measures, revelers had to huddle outdoors in long lines before entering the inaugural grounds or any of the balls Thursday night. They had barely thawed from hours of walking and standing around to witness the swearing-in ceremonies and parade, only to be dropped by cabs and limos a mile or more from their evening destinations.
Because the city had barricaded some 100 city blocks, including access to most of the party venues, Republicans had to walk at least several blocks before reaching security checks, where they had to wait among hundreds to pass through magnetometers and submit to searches and wandings.
At the inauguration, throngs of thousands waited in massive lines while every man, woman and child got a pat-down. Ladies in one line, gents in another, in order to ensure same-sex gropings. At the Liberty Ball in the Convention Center, it took 45 minutes to get from the gate to the party, where more lines formed for coat checks, drink tickets and then beverages.
A word about that security. I’ve lived under dictator Francisco Franco in Spain when the Guardia Civil routinely stood on street corners with automatic weapons; I’ve enjoyed hours of interrogation by military police in East Germany for spending a night without permission; I’ve had the honor of escorting a Russian Pentecostal Christian across international borders with a dozen machine guns poised overhead.
But I’ve never experienced anything like American security in the land of the free. It was chillingly ironic listening to President George W. Bush talk about liberty, a word he used about 15 times in his inaugural address – and our mission to help others liberate themselves – while we were being frisked, filmed and watched by snipers.
Granted, an inauguration during wartime in the age of terror is a unique event. But with thousands of police, military personnel, helicopters above and bomb-sniffing dogs below in the city’s underground, “freedom” was not a word that sprang to mind. Celebration was not the feel to many of these events, no matter how beautiful the people, or how noble their patience, or good-humored their perseverance.
Celebrants became willing if oft-disappointed soldiers – armies of well-dressed and well-coiffed Americans wandering through a glacial desert in search of something that felt lost. That good time, that last dance, that first sip of champagne. All elusive amid the armor, suspicion, paranoia.
And waiting. waiting. waiting.
Oh no, wait, there weren’t any. I take back everything I said about President Jimmy Carter’s pedestrian parties, at which he served peanuts and pretzels. Carter was Jay Gatsby compared with menu planners at the Liberty Ball, where guests hovered over buffets of cheese cubes, pretzels and chips. Why, I would have traded my plastic wine vessel for a savory, protein-rich peanut.
The party halls, far from lovely, were vast sterile expanses with a band and dance floor at each end. Along the periphery, photographers snapped partygoers posed in front of mammoth presidential seals. Long lines formed at the drink bars, which were woefully understaffed with folks – very probably not Republicans – who seemed never to have known a hurried day.
If I heard it once, I heard it a hundred times: You don’t suppose the Democrats were in charge of planning? What better revenge for The People than to sit toasty at home and watch the privileged and righteous punished by the elements, suffering under the heavy hand of the government they helped install?
I’m just sayin’.
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