It's Not My Party, And I'll Fly if I Want To

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By Steve Hendrix
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Four years ago, Democrats looked at the grandstands being built in front of the White House and felt robbed. This time around, with not even a recount to gnash their teeth over as they watch the barricades go up around another Bush inauguration, they just feel -- bad.

"The last time, there were so many legitimacy questions it was just much higher drama," says Joe Lockhart, the former White House spokesman and one of several Clinton alumni who parachuted into John Kerry's campaign when it was floundering last summer. "This time is less dramatic, but more depressing."

Defiance or defeat, either emotion apparently is reason enough for many Kerry supporters to get well out of area code 202 during the other party's party. Just as in January 2001, plenty of Washington Democrats are planning to be Anywhere But Here during tomorrow's GOP victory celebration. For these partisan refugees, the lure of sunnier climes or mountain hideaways -- heck, how about a basement safe room in Gaithersburg? -- beats the prospect of streets filled with Red State revelers drunk on patronage and cash-bar bourbon amid security that promises to be as welcoming of dissent as Pyongyang in one of its grouchier moods.

"I'm going to the Arizona desert," said Ellen R. Malcolm, president of Emily's List and one of the powers behind America Coming Together, the Democrats' massive -- and ultimately futile -- get-out-the-vote effort in November. "Watching cactus grow is a lot more exciting than watching Republicans in fur coats listening to George Bush give a speech." Want to watch cactus grow? The venerable Saguaro Lake Ranch Resort in Arizona's Tonto National Forest offers cabins and lodge rooms starting at $125 per person double. Info: 480-984-2194, www.saguarolakeranch.com.

It's never fun to lose, but some Democrats say the second shutout in a row is particularly galling. Not only did the past four years of revenge fantasies come to nothing, but they now face four more years -- at least -- of somebody else writing government policy. "As painful as it was in 2000, at least we were at the end of a very successful eight years of the Clinton administration," said Stephanie Cutter, director of communications for the Kerry campaign and a former Clinton White House staffer. "Now we know what it's like to be out of office, and it kind of hurts. A lot of Democrats I know are getting out of town, even if it's just to the Eastern Shore." The 1860s-era Brampton Inn near Chestertown, Md., offers last-minute, day-of bookings on any available room -- even luxury suites -- for $135 on midweek nights (regular rates range from $135 to $255). Info: 410-778-1860, www.bramptoninn.com.

For her part, Cutter, now a senior adviser to Ted Kennedy, plans to be sunning on Miami's South Beach tomorrow. "I'll be sitting on the beach, not reading a newspaper," she says. At press time, the last-minute travel service Site 59 was offering a three-night stay (Thursday through Sunday) at the Tudor Hotel in South Beach starting at $369.86 per person double, including airfare. Info: www.site59.com.

Unlike the last inauguration -- when the Florida of hanging chads and Katherine Harris had lost much of its winter appeal for Democrats -- there's nothing to keep Kerry-Edwards supporters out of the Sunshine State this time around. (They won't even risk running into Gov. Jeb. He'll be in Washington, presumably, partying with his brother.)

"This time it seems like Ohio was more the scene of the crime," Cutter said. "I don't think many people will be vacationing in Ohio right now."

Mike McCurry, who served as a Kerry spokesman late in the campaign, said he is happily obliged to be elsewhere on the big day. "By sheer luck of the draw, my mother's birthday is January 20th," McCurry said. "My brother and I are flying down to Abbeville, South Carolina, and we're going to take her out for dinner, which is just a splendid way to celebrate the inaugural, I think." McCurry didn't say whether he would have stiffed his mom had John Kerry been the one taking office on her birthday. The Abbeville Chamber of Commerce Web site lists four restaurants in the little town near the Georgia border, one of which is an ice cream parlor and one a McDonald's. It does show several beautiful antebellum B&Bs. Info: 864-366-4600, www.abbevillescchamber.com.

John Kerry himself, back in his role as the junior senator from Massachusetts, plans to attend his opponent's swearing-in, according to his office. Whether he'll hang around for the parade or the dancing was undetermined, given that the senator just returned Sunday from a two-week trip to the Middle East. "Senator Kerry has attended every inauguration since he took office, and he looks forward to attending this one as well," said Kerry spokeswoman April Boyd.

Not every Democrat feels the urge to flee, even those who aren't obliged to suck it up. Kiki McLean, a Democratic strategist and spokeswoman for Al Gore, said she senses a fair amount of fight within the party ranks, even as the airspace over Washington fills with Republican champagne corks. Unlike in 2000, when the guy getting the parade was not the guy who won the most votes, this year feels more like the time-honored defeats that are nearly inevitable in a political career.

"I don't see a big pity party going on," said McLean. "In 2000, they didn't win -- we did. This time, although we're still very concerned that every vote was not properly counted, I believe that in the end they beat us."

After a day in New York on business, McLean plans to spend tomorrow evening in Washington, at a party with other Democrats. Will they tune into the inauguration? "I'll be a guest," she demurred. "I'll abide by the wishes of my hosts."

Lockhart, too, thinks there is more quadrennial moaning and groaning among the vanquished than actual bag-packing. The usual Democratic watering holes need not close the shutters, he said. "I think Stetson's will make a profit that night," Lockhart said. Stetson's, the Dem-friendly Adams Morgan saloon at 1610 U St. NW, will be open until 2 a.m. tomorrow night.

For his part, Lockhart plans to watch Bush's second inaugural address on television, and then bolt the next day for Seattle to give a speech to a pro-Kerry group. "I'm going to the West Coast to talk about why we lost, to a group of people who were very disappointed that we lost," he said. "Often you're speaking to business groups, and they ask you not to offend anyone. These people asked that I say exactly what I think. That's more fun." At press time, Lastminutetravel.com was offering airfare and three nights (Thursday through Sunday) at Seattle's Days Inn Town Center for $475.99 per person, double. Info: www.lastminutetravel.com.

If there are Democrats out making merry in Washington tomorrow night, Cecilia Saad will not be among them. The D.C. resident and staunch Democrat fully intends to put at least one mountain range between her and the first hours of the second G.W. Bush administration. Saad, marketing director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, spent Election Day holding up a Kerry sign on a street corner in Hedgesville, W.Va. This week she's heading back to the Mountain State to immerse herself in a media blackout at a cabin with three like-minded friends.

"We're going to play board games and ban the radio and TV," Saad said. "The nice thing about D.C. is that you don't have to go far to feel far away. And that's where I want to be, far away." For an extensive list of cabins and lodges to rent in West Virginia: West Virginia Tourism, www.callwva.com.

It's not just that the other side gets to throw this party, Saad said. She's angry that protests are reportedly going to be kept well away from the main parade route and that federal officials told the District government it won't be reimbursed for millions in security expenses. And the sheer scale of the festivities -- an estimated $40 million for the parade, balls and fireworks -- strikes her as unseemly when the country is at war and so soon after the tsunami that killed more than 160,000 in South Asia.

"It's too much," she said. "I would be just as disappointed if Kerry went forward with all the pageantry and the galas. A swearing-in would be fine, of course, and a small parade. But a $40 million price tag? I think that's obscene."

And do Republicans, who endured a few bitter inauguration weeks during the Clinton era, have any advice for despondent Dems? Grover Norquist, the acerbic head of Americans for Tax Reform, said Kerry folks should stay and whoop it up among themselves.

"They should have their own counter-inaugural party like we did back in '92," Norquist said. "It's good to remind yourself that it's not the end of the world if your guy is not the president."

What's this? Words of comfort from a merciless conservative warrior?

"It's probably too late this time," he went on. "But it's not too late to start planning for the next two presidential elections that they're going to lose."

Ah. That's more like it.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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