On the Mall and wall one hope expressed: 'Maybe it's our turn'

MIKE LITTWIN

January 20, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

WASHINGTON — Washington--This is the kind of party it was. Woody Harrelson -- yeah, the actor -- is up on stage jamming with a couple of guys from the Grateful Dead. Woody's got this song he's written, and it starts something like "I'm a left-leanin', veggie-eatin', ozone-layer-lovin' . . ." and you suspect from the raucous cheers, if you hadn't figured it out already, that this may not be a Republican crowd.

There were hippies, neo-hippies, boomers, sons and daughters of boomers, lots of balding guys in beards, Deadheads of every description. But I didn't see any Republicans. They'd had their party. It ran about 12 years.

At America's Reunion on the Mall, another in a never-ending series of Bill Clinton celebrations brought to you by Bill Clinton himself, people were talking about a new day. And around this tent where the Dead was playing, there was some old-time partying going on. Also some old-time inhaling going on. I also saw one couple sharing a swig of something out of a Hilton Hotel shampoo bottle. Takes you back, doesn't it?

This is the kind of day it was. The line to one of the many food halls was a couple of hundred deep, but no one seemed to mind. No one seemed to mind the wait or the cold or the crush of the estimated 200,000 folks. This was supposed to be a party and a celebration and a reunion, and it was all of that.

The guy behind me in line started chanting, "Two more days. Two more days. Two more days."

Almost immediately, the chant took hold. People were chanting and smiling. There was music. People were chanting and smiling and rocking to the beat.

It was Monday, a holiday, and the mood was buoyant. Maybe you can understand why. For a certain group of Americans -- the left-leanin', veggie-eatin', ozone-layer-lovin' types -- something exceptional has happened. A Democrat has been elected. A baby boomer Democrat. Somebody who wished he'd gone to Woodstock.

They've waited at least 12 years for this. For the real left-leaners, it goes back farther than that. You have to remember Jimmy Carter ran against the liberal establishment. Before Carter, the last Democrat was LBJ, a quarter of a century ago, and you know how his term ended.

What you saw was enthusiasm born of desperation. What you had were a lot of people willing to believe in Clinton. They seemed willing to forgive the fact that his inaugural committee had sold the music rights to this so-called free event to HBO for around $2 million. (What's next -- pay-per-view? How about an inauguration triple-cast?) Nobody was talking about how the "people's inauguration" costs $25 million and is being largely underwritten by corporate America.

In return for their forgiveness, Bill "Watch What I Say, Not What I Do" Clinton is laying on the symbolism. He's good, too. The ringing bells. The bus ride. The visit to Monticello. The visit to the Kennedy gravesites. The party for the 53 faces of hope -- a group of people Clinton said were particularly inspirational to him.

Everywhere there were symbols. The best was the Mall Wall, a national-community bulletin board where anyone got to write whatever he wished. It was a low-tech town meeting. Somebody wrote "Inhale to the Chief." There was "16 years -- first Bill, then Hillary." There were pro-choice messages. There were calls for AIDS funding. And this: "Stop police harassment of skaters." Of course.

People want to believe. Nowhere was this more obvious than at the baby boomer-plus tent -- there was every kind of music in tents up and down the Mall -- where the Dead was followed by Robert Cray, who was followed by Peter, Paul and Mary -- your basic Movement People.

PP&M went all the way for Clinton. They launched into "Puff the Magic Dragon," and everyone sang in this warm, fuzzy, remember-when way. When it ended, everyone smiled. You know the exact smile.

Then Peter (bald), Paul (bald), Mary (hair dyed?) told how they were in Washington, not far from where the audience was standing, in the summer of 1963 to hear Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his I-have-a-dream speech. And how, they said, the election of Bill Clinton represents the renewal of that hope.

Then came a prayerful "We Shall Overcome." People wept, grown men and women. They held hands and flashed peace signs. It was a genuine moment.

Twenty years ago, Bill Clinton might have been in that crowd. He knows these people. The question is: How will they feel about Clinton as they get to know him?

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