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Inaugural watchword is 'restraint'
After eight years of exile and weeks of uncertainty, Republicans finally have something to celebrate as George W. Bush takes the oath as the nations 43rd president.
But the four days of political pageantry that surround his ascension this week will be as notable for what does not happen as what does.
There will be no national bell ringing, no treks through Monticello and no symbolic crossing of the Potomac as there were in 1993 when Bill Clinton invited Americans to watch Democrats retake Washington.
The watchword at this, the nation's 54th presidential inauguration, is restraint.
With the shadow of an ugly vote recount, threats of organized protests and a politically riven nation looming large, the inaugural handlers are aching to send a message of solemnity and seriousness of purpose. So don't expect any testimonials to the Republican loyalists who made it happen in Tallahassee, Fla., an experience that this week will be ignored -- at least officially.
"This is what's in order for this time, this place, these circumstances," said Fred Meyer, executive chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee.
"If (Republicans) had won an overwhelming majority in the House, Senate and presidential elections, that would have been one thing," he added. "That would have meant the American people had firmly said this is the agenda we want and this is the direction we want to go." Instead, they will be inaugurating a winner who lost the popular vote and waged a ferocious legal battle to win in the Electoral College.
Which is not to say that it won't be grand and gleeful, as the most splendid of American rituals begins today with a ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial.
There will be the stately swearing-in on the Capitol steps, a big noisy parade down two miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, eight "official" inaugural balls and a sprinkling of other events.
The Texas State Society's bipartisan "Black Tie and Boots" bash -- a hot ticket every four years -- was upgraded this year to a "sanctioned ball." Recent postings on eBay have offered the $175 tickets for as much as $7,000.
Underlying every inaugural detail -- from the menus to the music, the seating charts to The Speech -- is a political calculus crafted to tell the American people that this is your new president -- take a good look.
John F. Kennedy went hatless and became an American style-setter for a new generation (even if the millinery industry tanked). Jimmy Carter defined himself as a populist when he left his limousine to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue in 1977.
Sometimes seemingly benign symbols prove prophetic.
Carter's egalitarian aides denied then-House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill extra tickets to an inauguration event and launched Carter's rocky relationship with Congress. Barbra Streisand entertained Clinton and his rich donors before his first swearing-in and Hollywood had dibs on the Lincoln bedroom for much of the next eight years.
For Bush, the second member of the family in 12 years to assume the presidency, this week's events are all about legitimacy, unity and a new humility as he sets the tone for his next four years.
From the cut of Laura Bush's ruby inaugural gown ("glamorous, but not beaded with reckless abandon," her designer notes), to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (her husband's favorite food) that will serve as pillow treats at the Washington Ritz Carlton, it all means something.
Most inaugurals are set against the one that came before, particularly when the party changes. This celebration will stand in stark contrast to the Clinton extravaganzas that broke records for crowd size, free concerts on the mall and so many Hollywood glitterati that HBO bought the TV rights for $1.5 million.
Bush's big donors will be celebrated tonight at three quiet, candlelight dinners, traditional if not starchy in every sense. Instead of stratospheric stars such as Streisand, the evening will feature Vegas regular Wayne Newton. Bush and Vice President-elect Dick Cheney will deliver "brief remarks" at each dinner.
Most events are by invitation only, another departure from the Clintonesque frolicking that beckoned Americans with or without political connections to the marbled capital.
Most of the free events this week are outdoors -- the opening ceremony, swearing-in and parade. Tickets to candlelight dinners are $2,500 each. Tickets to balls go for $125 a person. Other open events in honor of Laura Bush and Cheney are free, but tickets are mostly reserved for "friends and family," committee members said.
Because of planned demonstrations and residual hard feelings about the disputed election, security will be extraordinarily tight.
Fund-raisers are two-thirds of the way to collecting the $35 million needed to underwrite all the events, according to organizer Meyer. Much of the money has been donated in chunks of $100,000 from wealthy individuals and corporations, he said.
Bush officially takes the presidential oath -- 35 words written more than 200 years ago -- at noon EST Saturday. He will place his left hand on the same Bible used by his father (and a few other presidents, including the first one).
Franklin Graham will fill in for his father, evangelist Billy Graham, and give the invocation.
The centerpiece of it all will be, of course, the inaugural address, Bush's ultimate opportunity to present to the world his vision for his presidency. Speech writer Mike Gerson has been holed up in his suburban Virginia home drafting the all-important message, which Bush will practice at his Texas ranch.
This inauguration is all about one America, with plenty of nods to the Lone Star State.
Hotel pianists are boning up on "Streets of Laredo." Doormen are donning cobalt blue Stetsons. Rattlesnake meat is being flown in from Texas. An elephant topiary of yellow roses has been sculpted. And Neiman Marcus is standing by with information about where to get sequined cowboy boots and floor-length sables. What will be missing, at least in public, is the trademark Texas braggadocio and the gloating that comes with a big victory.
"There was a huge sense in 1988 that (the senior Bush) had won this and he was going to celebrate it," said one of his former campaign aides. "But I don't think George W. will be letting loose. The experience of those 36 days tempered Dubya. He's used the word "humble' practically every time he speaks."
The restraint is also a function of the new president's upbringing and style. George W. Bush is not a party animal anymore. This is a man who goes to a dinner party at 7 and is home by 9.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee is mindful of the animosity the election produced, without officially acknowledging that the Florida recount ever took place. Its deference is evident in everything from the theme -- "Celebrating America's Spirit Together" -- to the committee's authorized "Diversity Office," created to make the inaugural as "open and inclusive as possible."
Along those lines, the committee has announced three "sanctioned" Latino events, including a ball, a luncheon and a gala.
But planners drew the line when asked to sanction a reunion of the tireless Republicans who sewed up Florida's 25 electoral votes. Bush recount czar James A. Baker III and former President Bush will host a low-profile soiree at the Washington offices of Baker's law firm.