By S.E. Cupp
Sunday, January 18, 2009
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.
Brett Joshpe and I wrote our first book together. When I shot him a quick e-mail the other day to ask about his "views on the inauguration," I knew that he, like any true New Yorker, would wear his cynicism as a badge of honor. "Inauguration week in New York City will be like any other for me," he replied. "I intend to watch the historical moment (perhaps on mute to avoid the droning of talking heads) and will neither go out of my way to participate in it nor will I avoid it."
It was hard to find any conservatives in New York, in fact, who could put a happy spin on our grim situation. But I knew that if anyone could, it would be my friend Margaret Hoover, a political strategist whom I routinely bump into in the Fox News building. (Which, by the way, is the only refuge New York Republicans have. Walking into Fox is like slipping into a warm bath.)
Margaret is pep incarnate. And she's recently engaged, so it was impossible for her take to be anything but blindingly sunny. And it was -- in fact, she offered the first exclamation point. "We are all Americans, and should be proud the whole world is watching!" she wrote in a cheerful e-mail. "Regardless of who you voted for, next week will be an incredible moment in American history, marked by a peaceful transition of power to the first black president."
Though I appreciated her good spirits, they didn't really ease my ambivalence about the inauguration, especially considering how jubilant the mood in Manhattan will be. But as bad as we have it in New York, my conservative friends in Washington have it worse, and many are planning their escapes. Lobbyist John Goodwin is spending four days with 10 pals in a cabin in Maryland, skiing and playing board games. J.P. Freire, the managing editor of the American Spectator, hopes to rent a lake or beach house with some buddies. "You can't get away from this" in town, he wrote. "It'll be in the bars till 4 a.m. every night when you're trying to sleep, and it'll flood the streets with traffic when you need to get groceries."
As for me, I'll have to watch my fair share of coverage for my job. But maybe at some point I'll wander downtown to Wall Street, where George Washington was inaugurated, and try to imagine what it was like for New Yorkers to throw the first president of the United States his first inaugural ball. As much as I hate admitting it, I bet that like that first one, this year's inauguration will be a pretty good time. Just wish I could get in a partying mood.
S.E. Cupp is a political commentator and co-author of "Why You're Wrong About the Right."