Was in the crowd on Pennsylvania...


January 21, 1993|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

LOUIS GOLDSTEIN, 79, was in the crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue again for the Clinton inaugural. His first was in 1929, as he explained on the Opinion * Commentary page yesterday.

Had there been an 80-ish spectator there in 1929 who had started going to inaugurals as a teen-ager, she would have seen Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. And had there been an 80-ish spectator at that 1865 inaugural parade, he could have watched Thomas Jefferson's first inaugural in 1801.

That was before the parades even started (1805 or 1809, depending on which history book you read). So three people easily could have seen every presidential inaugural parade in our nation's history.

Gives you an idea of what a young country we are, and probably explains why the past is so important to Americans. We're only a generation or so removed from eyewitnesses to every important moment in the nation's history. I have a friend in his 50s whose wife's grandfather was born during George Washington's first term.

President Clinton and his generation ought to bear this in mind. ++ It's all very well to keep "thinking about tomorrow," as his theme song has it, but as for "yesterday's gone" -- not!

Abraham Lincoln said in his 1861 inaugural address that he believed "the mystic chords of memory" would help preserve the Union. He was right. I know, the Union Army had a little something to do with that, too, but it is unlikely Americans would have sacrificed, fought and died for a cause had their history not inspired them.

Bill Clinton knows this. To energize support for his own coming program of "sacrifice," he played a few chords of memory himself yesterday. He mentioned George Washington, cited Thomas Jefferson, quoted Franklin D. Roosevelt, mimicked John Kennedy and saluted George Bush, all in 14 minutes.


The grand Pennsylvania Avenue you saw on television yesterday is not the Pennsylvania Avenue of memory. When Jefferson was president, the avenue was a muddy route through the woods. But it at least was the straight, uninterrupted boulevard its planner had envisioned -- Capitol to White House.

Andrew Jackson changed that. He decided to have the Treasury building built next to the White House between Capitol Hill and the White House, interrupting the vista.

Not so very long ago, Pennsylvania Avenue was a semi-drab street. The north side was run-down commercial in large part. In 1961, John Kennedy was offended by what he saw on his ride to the White House and ordered that the federal government revitalize the route. With the speed that typifies the bureaucracy and Congress, a plan was developed and approved in 1975.

What you saw yesterday was the result of what followed: $149 million in public funds, $1.5 billion in private development. The plan is 90 percent complete. Should be finished for Bill's second inaugural.

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