America on guest list at Bill, Al's lawn party


January 18, 1993|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Attention, America: You're invited to Bill and Al's Excellent Lawn Party, a massive come-as-who-you-are thing that attempts to define and celebrate who we are.

You've got your cowboys and Indians, your rockers and good ol' dudes, middle-aged men and middle-aged women in Land's End winter parkas, yuppies carrying babies in shoulder slings, college kids, boys in "X" caps, little girls in hot-pink snow jackets, aging flower children in wool coats and combat boots, Vietnam vets -- all of them shoulder-to shoulder, arm-to-arm, foot-on-foot, all jammed up on the Mall, the nation's front lawn, right where Bill and Hillary and Al and Tipper want them.

The aroma of ribs and dirty rice is everywhere.

It's a festival of music and food -- the two things most readily identifiable with Bill Clinton.

"In case you haven't figured out where you are," a man with a drawl says into a microphone, "you're at America's Reunion."

The title promises a Clinton administration that will practice a politics of inclusion. There's room here for everybody! Plenty of room in this tent.

In fact, it takes several tents to hold America at America's Reunion, which continues today, and each has a name -- Heritage Hall, Reunion Hall, Town Hall, you get the idea -- and each has its own "gestalt," its own "shtick," its own Thing.

We're talking mostly oldies-but-goodies at this reunion: from the gifted quilt-makers of our nation's capital to Booker T. and the MG's.

This is your basic celebration of America's folk heritage -- nationally known horse-hair braider Rowdy Pate is here -- playing right alongside the History of Rock 'n' Roll.

It's a little bit of everything, for those of you who forgot how culturally diverse this nation is.

It's where you can have a dish of dirty rice while checking out Metropolitan Opera star Kathleen Battle. Or you can listen to the ritual falsetto chants of the Lakota tribesmen while munching on Italian sausage.

It's a wild mixture of American pop culture, pulled into a giant tent city and looking like one part tailgate party, one part Indy 500 infield, one part rock concert and one part state fair.

You've got Big Bird and Friends, with Cookie Monster singing, "Me Feel Great!" You've got Carol Channing warming up for Larry Gatlin by singing, "I'm Just A Little Girl From Little Rock."

And you have Lauren Bacall singing "I Believe In You" while ogling a giant color portrait of the president-elect.

You've got R&B, gospel, Cajun, bluegrass, go-go and rap. . . . The Music of America! Taj Mahal warmed up for Little Feat, then Little Feat drew the biggest crowd, which figured. The program VTC book calls them "Southern Rock & Roll Icons."

Which sounds like Bill & Al.

They called this a day of symbols and, while the trip from Monticello and the ringing of the Liberty Bell replica were nice touches, no symbol could top the hottest-selling T-shirt at the Mall: a classic '60s tie-dyed T-shirt emblazoned with the presidential seal and Bill and Al's excellent portraits.

Clinton is head boomer of the baby-boom nation, and it was his peers and their kids who partied on the mall yesterday. The crowd was young to middle-aged, mostly white, mostly middle-class.

The partygoers had a chance to express themselves. One blocked-off street served as a "chalk walk," where America was invited to write and draw with big pastel chalk.

By noon, the pavement was covered with color, flowers, peace symbols, stick figures and '60s-style expressions:

"Imagine Peace . . . Mossbergs Say God Bless . . . I Love My Mommy . . . . . . Choice Forever! . . . Wild Women Say Spank Saddam . . . Go Buffalo . . . Save The Trees, Legalize Hemp."

And there was this bit of Eastern philosophy, delivered by someone from Austin, Texas: "Remember, Bill: No Matter Where You Are, There You Are."

Skateboarders for Clinton wrote: "Hey Bill: Skate Tough or Catch the Bus."

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