Let the inaugural games begin.
After a brutal campaign followed by fiscal-cliff warfare, Democrats are primed for President Obama’s second term kickoff. He’ll be sworn in privately on Jan. 20 because it’s a Sunday, followed by a very public, symbolic second oath, an inaugural address, a parade and fancy balls on Monday, Jan. 21. Virtually all the official and unofficial events will be Dem-centric victory bashes.
But on Sunday night at the Madison Hotel, not far from the White House, any toxic talk of guns and budgets, Benghazi and Hurricane Sandy, will be checked at the door along with the furs. Air kissing will replace red/blue hissing during what may be Washington’s longest running private, bi-partisan soiree.
Some 600 people who skew older and more affluent than many Obama voters have been invited to this eighth quadrennial dinner for Rs and Ds. Most are members of a permanent establishment that embraces the frayed political practice of playing together nicely. As Mother might say, they “disagree without being disagreeable.”
As she has since Ronald Reagan’s 1985 swearing-in, Buffy Cafritz, a philanthropist and founding mother of the event, will greet guests alongside her husband Bill, a member of a D.C. real estate and charity dynasty. The Republican stalwarts will be joined by uber-Democrats Vernon and Ann Dibble Jordan, co-hosts since the ‘90s. He’s a civil rights leader, investment banker and close Bill Clinton pal. She’s a Chicago-bred educator, the first African American inaugural co-chair (Clinton II) and a cousin of White House counselor-confidante Valerie Jarrett. The third slot goes to newbies this year, philanthropists Roger Sant, an energy mogul and registered Dem, and his wife Vicki, who heads the family foundations and is listed as unaffiliated on city voting rolls.
To those who might sneer, “Who cares what a lot of Beltway Insiders do in that cesspool called Washington?” I would reply that if bullying and name-calling is unacceptable among kids, why is it okay for alleged adults? At a time when colonoscopies, head lice and root canals are more popular than Congress, why not encourage more consorting among adversaries. We should all wish former Gov. Jon Huntsman (R-Utah), Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and 22 other centrist No Labels politicians the best of luck. We should likewise applaud Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Lamar Alexander, (R-Tenn.) and 18 other bipartisan pols, who meet regularly to hash out knotty legislation at the private, ironically named Alibi Club here. Warner let that juicy aisle-crossing morsel slip during a recent Institute for Education speech on the perils of fiscal gridlock.
Buffy Cafritz was none too sanguine about the ongoing, uncivil war as she described the goal of the upcoming party. “Let’s stop the squabbling for at least a couple of days. He is our president. All of us want it to be a celebration.” She contends that the escalating bombast is “horrible for our young people and our children. It’s on both sides. It’s embarrassing. And it’s going to get worse for the next two months with the debt ceiling.”
Norman Ornstein, an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow and TV talking head, was also pessimistic. “So much of this is cultural that it’s not going to change in the near future. It’s tribal now, not just ideological. That means, ‘if you are for it, I am against it, even if I was for it yesterday.’ It’s particularly true of Republicans in the House,” says the co-author of “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With The New Politics of Extremism.”
GOP lobbyist Juleanna Glover often throws “mixed” parties where opposing journalists, congressional aides and administration officials gather to talk shop. “I think it’s nice, rather than just seeing someone in a formal meeting,” she says, because bringing disparate players together helps everyone know “who you are doing battle with in politics, whether it’s intelligence gathering or bridge building.”
Having been invited to several inaugural parties this weekend, Glover says, “I am happy for my administration friends personally, but not necessarily politically.” Score one for Mom.
Most Democrats are pleased on both levels, though far fewer than half of the 1.8 million shivering people who jammed the National Mall in 2009 are expected this year. The first official event is the Saturday, Jan. 19 National Day of Service. The last, four days later, is an interfaith service at the Washington National Cathedral.
Meanwhile, Team Obama’s Presidential Inaugural Committee is busily raising money to pay for everything from a concert for military children to the traditional post-oath parade. In 2009, his supporters ponied up $53 million in spite of a $50,000 cap on individual gifts and a ban on corporate money. This year, the limits are gone, so almost anyone who wants to cozy up to the administration can pay to party. Naturally, the big spenders will get their own lavish celebration, complete with top entertainers.
About the only time large numbers of Republicans and Democrats will be seen together is at the Capitol during the outdoor oath taking. The ceremony is run by a congressional committee, which earlier this week sent every House and Senate member free swearing-in tickets to give to constituents. The most coveted viewing spots feature actual chairs, although many are for standing room.
Within days, dozens of Craigslist sellers were asking $200 and $300 for each free pass, which, if authentic, entitles all bearers to wait for hours in near-freezing weather to see and hear their duly elected leaders, as well as Beyonce, James Taylor and Kelly Clarkson in full-throated patriotic warbling.
“I am a Republican, but I think it’s really important for all of us to celebrate the fact that every four years we peacefully elect a president,” said Lynda Webster, an event planner who is looking forward to the Cafritz-Jordan-Sant dinner. “It really is an example for the world.”
Yes, it is. But for those Americans depressed by the seemingly endless political nastiness, perhaps nothing says it better than the $6 pack of cocktail napkins at the Chocolate Moose gift shop in Washington. “If PRO is the opposite of CON, then what is the opposite of PROgress?”
Annie Groer, now covering her tenth inauguration, has been a Washington Post and PoliticsDaily.com reporter and columnist whose work has also appeared in the New York Times, Town & Country and More. She is at work on a memoir.