Chads Into Confetti

A Great Day for America

The one incident that forced TV to acknowledge the protests' existence was the holdup when the Secret Service stopped W.'s limo short of one bunch of demonstrators, then hustled him past them with a cordon of agents jogging alongside the car. Briefly, we saw what was actually happening on Pennsylvania Avenue—that part of it, anyway: several dozen placard-waving protesters hemmed in by four ranks of cops in riot gear. After answering Peter Jennings's query as to what issues they were raising with a dismissive "Pretty much the kitchen sink," ABC's Terry Moran accounted for their visibility by explaining that the Bush people had been "outorganized [!] by what may be a fringe element." (Honest: "a fringe element.") Then Moran called them "a grab bag of angry people who may not be spoiling the parade"—"spoiling": now we're getting to the point—"but are certainly impacting it." Jennings picked up the ball: "They may be causing resentment among the people at home."

As disgraceful as this performance was, CNN wasn't much better, first treating the motorcade's pause as a convenient interlude in which to chat about W.'s foreign policy and then reporting on Bush supporters' reaction to the demonstrators. Hours later, Kate Snow did a decent job of summarizing the protests, but even she didn't let any of the troublemakers speak for themselves. In fact, I didn't see a single interview with one on any network all day—or hear so much as a sound bite of whatever they were chanting, or get more than glimpses of what was written on their signs. During the live coverage, when W. and Laura Bush finally got out to walk the last block of the route, it was clear that they'd been obliged to wait until they reached the safe stretch of Bush supporters near the reviewing stand. In CNN's evening wrap-ups, the same upbeat clip appeared with nary a reference to its awkward context.

Meanwhile, our newest ex-president was taking his sweet time saying goodbye—even as he relinquished the spotlight not to W. but to Hillary, whose declarations of her new autonomy ranged from a black leather coat so assertive it might as well have had the Jolly Roger painted on its back to a Kennedy Airport thank-you so Noo Yawkishly strident I wished she'd had the balls to say, "It's great to be home." Yet the sight of Clinton skidding out of office in a final spray of snake oil and averted indictments made even me feel sentimental, just because it was so utterly characteristic of our Styrofoam rock in a raging sea. I didn't fully register just how strange a chapter we're closing until I spotted a beaming giantess in a floppy hat, clutching a small American flag, among the well-wishers at his departure. It was Janet Reno—and what a sheerly peculiar figure she is to have occupied the national stage these past eight years. I can't explain why I found that touching; I wasn't even drunk yet.

But my pal Dolores and I were both good and soused by the time Larry King Live came on, which may have contributed to my impression that all but W.'s most devoted supporters were finding the affectation of euphoria hard to sustain. For one thing, it had to have started sinking in on permanent Washington, whose gasbag epitomes Ben Bradlee and Sally Quinn were Larry's guests that night—along with Time-Life's timeless, lifeless Hugh Sidey, who was giving blowjobs in the Oval Office decades before Monica Lewinsky was born—what they're in for. Sure, Republicans wear fur and serve lobster, but they're still stuck for the next four years with a teetotaler and a librarian. All that fawning over the newcomers' Texas yee-hah reflects a desperate hope that barbecue and cowboy boots will somehow pick up the slack.

Bradlee has believed he's Jason Robards ever since Robards played him, and he crustily deprecated the protests: "Only seven arrests," he said, with man-of-the-world scorn. "I wasn't impressed." Jeez, if only a few demonstrators had gotten their skulls cracked, or maybe tossed grenades. What a downer not to have impressed Ben Bradlee.

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