Changing of the guard

Art Buchwald

January 19, 1993|By Art Buchwald

ONCE again the nation prepares to swear in a new president It's called the "Changing of the Guard," and it is Washington's most stirring ceremony. When one regime leaves and another takes its place the old guard lines up to march out the gate, and the fresh troops march in to the beat of a different drummer.

I have seen it many times and it always moves me.

I have watched hardened veterans of an administration stumble out in the street handing out their resumes to anyone who would take them. I have seen men once charged with handling billions of dollars trying to get enough change from tourists to take the bus home.

I always stand by the White House gate when the "Changing of the Guard" takes place, waving an American flag to show our boys in the trenches our gratitude.

This time the scene was even more somber as the long line of White House staffers shuffled slowly out of the building carrying their notes and diaries in their knapsacks. Most of them were crying.

Suddenly, I saw a friend, Stephen Disson, whose only job had been to decide what the president knew and when he knew it.

"Steve," I yelled, "It's good to see you out here with the people again."

"They wouldn't even let me keep my fax machine," he said bitterly.

"That's the way it is in the government," I told him. "One day you're ordering 50 bombing missions over Desert Storm, and the next you can't even get a job selling lottery tickets in an Army PX. What are you going to do, Steve?"

"I have to find a literary agent. I have an expose that will blow the lid off every branch of the government."

"How did you get a story like that?"

"I tapped everybody's cellular phone in Washington."

"You did this while working for the president?"

"On my own time. I still gave 10 hours a day to the White House Ethics Committee. If I can't get a publisher for my book, I'll do the next best thing and become a television talk show host."

"But you always claimed to have hated the media and called them responsible for everything that was wrong with the country."

"I know what I said. At the same time, TV is good exposure and will get me on the knife and fork circuit now that the rats have taken over the sinking ship. I'm good at asking questions in such a way that there's no time left for an answer."

While Steve and I were talking, a White House veteran came up to us and asked, "Can you spare a quarter for a Help Wanted ad?"

Suddenly I heard a stern Clinton transition officer say to his men, "Fall in, left face, forward march."

The long line went through the gate -- young men and women barely out of their teens -- baby boomers who had never fired a budget in anger.

They all marched with purpose toward the portico.

I waved my flag. Steve said, "Poor souls. They don't know how much fertilizer it takes to cultivate a Rose Garden."

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