INAUGURAL BLUES

It's Your Party, And I'll Cry If I Want To

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By S.E. Cupp
Sunday, January 18, 2009

NEW YORK

Recently I let a friend spoil a perfectly good night of planned debauchery by regaling me with stories of the first presidential inauguration, held here in New York City back in 1789.

Over frothy Belgian stouts, we sat on stools at a neighborhood dive below 14th Street, and he schooled me on the historic proceedings from George Washington's big day, which I gathered involved thousands of people in the streets, cannons, dancing and lots of famous folks. The celebration lasted nearly a month.

I'm grateful that some things have changed.

I'm proud of New York's role in early American history, but if Alexander Hamilton were alive today, I'd take him to that very bar and buy him a beer for persuading us Northerners to move the nation's capital to Washington. Thanks to him, I don't have to endure a month-long celebration in my backyard for the guy I didn't vote for.

That may sound bitter. I'm not. As a 20-something conservative who voted for John McCain, I'm now part of the loyal opposition. Barack Obama will become my president, and for the good of the country, I want him to succeed. I appreciate the historic nature of his inauguration and am proud that my generation had a role in delivering this moment.

But I was just starting to rejoin the general population and eat solid foods again. And now I must brace myself for Tuesday, when all of Washington, the country -- the world! -- boogies down in honor of the man I was absolutely certain would be a mere momentary distraction.

The Franklin Mint is telling me that I need to honor this historic election by buying commemorative coins bearing Obama's face. Life magazine thinks I should own its picture book, "The American Journey of Barack Obama." And Comcast has decided that I should want to watch Obama coverage 24 hours a day on their new channel devoted to The One.

In the face of all this excitement, it's not an easy thing, moving on, especially for young conservatives, who don't have decades of experience behind us dealing with losses to Kennedy, Carter and Clinton. Many of my friends who worked for McCain had hoped to find jobs in his administration -- but now they're merely lawyers, bankers and consultants again, and in some cases have gone back to companies that no longer have room for them and industries that have been decimated by the economic crisis. I'm a political writer and commentator, so Obama's election is actually good news for me, professionally. I now get to respectfully disagree, rather than obsequiously concur.

But I run with an eclectic crowd in New York, and not surprisingly, most of my friends are Democrats. There are, after all, more registered Democrats in New York City than there are people in Vermont, North Dakota, Wyoming and Alaska combined. (There are more cats than registered Republicans in New York City. Four times more. I've done the math.) While some of my liberal friends are too preoccupied with repairing their dwindling 401(k)s to care much about getting to Washington for the inauguration, others are planning their own soirees here in the city, and others still are planning their pilgrimages to the capital city.

Some friends at New York University, where I'm a grad student, will watch inaugural events at one of the school's newly installed viewing stations set up all over campus. Of course, I'm not even sure that NYU's efforts are necessary. Nearly every television set in nearly every bar will be on Obama-watch for the week. The Jumbotrons in Times Square will broadcast Obama's magnified visage to thousands of excited tourists bouncing their way from the Hard Rock Cafe to Toys R Us to "The Lion King" on Broadway. Just press your face against the glass of any deli window, and you too can watch the ceremonies.

None of my conservative friends -- in New York we all know each other, since there are roughly 14 of us -- plan to attend the actual event, and very few of us are planning to rearrange our schedules to watch on TV. Hampton Williams, the head of NYU's College Republicans, is staying in town to prepare for the start of his last semester. "I have come to the conclusion that this will be the highlight of my liberal friends' lives," he told me over a flurry of Facebook exchanges. "Eight years down the road I will have a career and a family, and my liberal friends will have a faded Obama button." The slight tone of resentment did not go unnoticed.


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© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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