WASHINGTON, D.C. - Flags at the Washington Post headquarters on 15th Street may not have been flying at half-mast, but much of liberal Democratic Washington did seem to be in mourning as President Bush took his second oath of office on Jan. 20. Many streets, covered in a dirty dusting of day-old snow, were all but deserted. Pedestrians walked with their heads bent against a cold winter wind and windows were plastered defiantly with placards touting John Kerry or "Blue Zone DC."
Still, quiet mourning was a big improvement over Inauguration Day 2001, when a contested election drew tens of thousands of enraged protesters to a series of events that all but shut down the city. This year's "Counter Inaugural" events (poetry readings at a lefty bookstore, concerts by obscure rage-against-the-machine wannabes) were low key and lightly attended-victims perhaps of a decisive popular vote and post-9/11 security measures.
If security measures discouraged protesters, however, they also dampened the spirits of the party faithful. Just north of the U.S. Capitol, throngs of GOP volunteers and donors lined up blocks deep in slushy snow, waiting hours for Transportation Security Administration personnel to conduct individual pat-downs and purse searches under massive white tents. Past the security gantlet, attendees navigated a maze of metal barricades holding color-coded tickets aloft like grade-schoolers with a hall pass.
For those fortunate enough to get to the West Front of the Capitol by noon, security hassles were forgotten as quickly as a campaign promise. The partisan crowd heartily booed the entrance of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and cheered an ailing William Rehnquist. When President Bush himself was announced, even the skies seemed to give their approval, clearing briefly on an otherwise dreary day.
After taking his oath, Mr. Bush offered a speech more somber than soaring. Focusing heavily on issues of security and foreign policy, he laid out his administration's "ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world." In a speech about broad principles rather than narrow policies, he lectured the world's despots on the importance of freedom and human rights.
Turning to domestic policy toward the end of his speech, Mr. Bush made veiled references to Social Security, tax policy, and education, announcing his hope of "reforming great institutions to serve the need of our time." Abortion, too, got a somewhat cryptic nod when Mr. Bush announced his belief that "even the unwanted have worth."
Buoyed at last by a clearcut election result, Mr. Bush closed on a note of unbridled optimism. "We go forward with complete confidence," he said. "We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom."