One clings to faith in new beginnings and the concept of rejuvenation. It may be naive, but it's preferable to the alternatives.
Sharon Pratt Dixon's inaugural address as D.C. mayor, aired live on several Washington stations yesterday, was filled with predictable buzzwords like "promise" and "hope" and "future," but the way she presented it made the words at least temporarily convincing.
If viewers felt encouraged by Dixon's lofty and optimistic visions, the greater impact of the speech may have been as performance art. There was a star-is-born luster to it; Dixon certainly qualifies as the most telegenic mayor the District has ever had, not that the District has had that many mayors.
More than that, she came across as someone with guts and gusto, and it could be that a formidable telepolitical career was being launched right there on live TV. Dixon's theme of "Yes, we will" was ably driven home, and an abiding sense of "yes, she can" (or at least "maybe she can") couldn't help but emerge, even if the awesome problems of the District got fleeting mention.
The "let's clean house" theme Dixon also espoused in her campaign was soft-pedaled at the swearing-in, and with Mayor Marion Barry, chief house dirtier, sitting right there on the dais, that was just as well.
Dixon, in a grape coat and Sally Jessy Raphael eyewear, spoke for less than 20 minutes and at a very rapid clip. The speech whirred by in a rush, so that even when hackneyed ideas surfaced they seemed to evaporate harmlessly.
It wasn't conversational, exactly, but it certainly wasn't stuffy, either. Departing at one point from her prepared text, Dixon suddenly rushed from the podium to hug D.C. Council Chairman John A. Wilson as a conciliatory gesture.
There was even a note of humor. "I remember Washington, D.C., when she was a sleepy Southern town," Dixon said, "a town where government was the only real employer, and summer fashions meant seersucker suits."
Okay, not hilarious. But agreeably good-spirited.
Giving the town a female identity was probably appropriate under the circumstances; Dixon also referred to Congress as a she. Not to be polarizing about it, but one theme of the day was certainly women outshining men.
Thus when WRC-TV anchor Jim Vance summed up the speech as "rather uplifting, I would think," it seemed churlish understatement. Whereas Doreen Gentzler, the ultra-able anchor back at the studio, called it "a very positive, very eloquent, very uplifting speech."
Vance was in an understating mood. Prior to the speech, he allowed as how the District is "a city that is not without some troubles, not without some trials." You don't say.
Sitting at Vance's side in front of the District Building was Tom Sherwood, an ace reporter who is still having troubles with the transition from print to broadcasting. The problem? He fidgets, he squirms, he cannot sit still. Perhaps they have injections for that.
As for Dixon, her movements seemed purposeful, her speedy delivery masterly, her message stubbornly hopeful. Whatever the fate of her administration, it will probably take a long time for her to wear out her welcome as a TV presence.
For the moment, she's hot stuff.