I returned from Washington Sunday evening to read an Empire headline that proclaimed, "Bush takes helm amid protests." The major media outlets, including the Empire's sources, focused largely on the protests. Because the Empire headline was not the story and because I was attending inaugural events when an Empire reporter tried to contact me, I offer a few random impressions of the Bush-Cheney inauguration.
Along with nearly 100 Alaskans from around the state, my husband and I went to Washington to witness the peaceful and orderly transfer of power - a solemn and constant piece of our political history for over 200 years. From the standpoint of someone who cares about the future of our country and in particular the future of our state, the significance of this inauguration is far more important than the circumstances of the election.
While walking to our seats for the swearing-in, our party of 10 Alaskans encountered three nylon-coated individuals who scolded our women for their winter attire. "Fur is murder!" they shouted. One in our group calmly explained that it is difficult to wear furry creatures when they are alive because they won't hold still and tend to bite and scratch. Unaccustomed to both humor and challenge, the best the heckler could counter was "Go to hell." After this relatively civil exchange, we all moved on without further incident.
The other act of protest we witnessed was no less original and occurred just as President Bush finished taking the oath of office. A topless couple silently strode down a main aisle through the crowd, their breasts tattooed with magic marker graffiti displaying their opinion about the election. The uniform reaction of the crowd to this little protest was one of hilarity. "If you're gonna take your clothes off, you should at least work out!"
It's been said that majesty works better under a blue sky but Saturday's gray skies were hardly a metaphor for the mood. Oblivious to the rain, chill and mud, no one whined about the weather. Inaugural attendees were utterly polite and respectful, focused intently on the ceremony, the music and the enduring words of the ritual. While our applause was muffled by the thickness of our gloves, at the conclusion of the ceremony, one could sense an overwhelming, collective sigh of relief.
Bush's inaugural address echoed familiar themes of his campaign. But as in most things Republican, the subtext is always freedom - freedom to achieve, produce, succeed. Our new president confidently conveyed his view of government and his commitment to American ideals in a way that was both calming and hopeful. I remain convinced that because this man is firmly and fundamentally led by principle, thus will he lead.
My favorite image of the weekend was the moving van we saw parked in front of the White House, presumably loading up the $190,000 worth of loot collected by the departing occupants. The Washington Post reported that the Clintons collected a record number of gifts while in office.
We observed hundreds of volunteer Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts in bright yellow hooded jackets cheerfully ushering crowds, offering directions and handing out programs.
At the opening ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial, when the national anthem was sung, attendees respectfully removed their hats despite the drizzle.
When President Clinton was introduced at the swearing-in, the predominantly Republican crowd, without being reminded to do so, immediately and instinctively rose from their seats in a show of respect for the office. No heckling or booing.
The events hosted by our congressional delegation for visiting Alaskans were occasions of great joy, conversation and unity. Some of my husband's most delightful Inaugural memories were made conversing with historian Stephen Ambrose at a dinner hosted by Sen. Ted Stevens.
The Republican vision for Alaska is anchored by the belief that the new administration is our state's best hope for our future. We have a president who will work productively with our congressional delegation to ensure a fair and balanced approach to the natural resource issues that are so critical to our state. These leaders will not be bullied by those who would limit our freedom to live and work in Alaska.
We departed Washington with a renewed sense of history and immense gratitude for the privilege of participating in the inaugural traditions. Indelibly etched in our memories are images of protocol and patriotism and the grandeur and timelessness of our American institutions.
Paulette Simpson is president of Capital City Republican Women.