Barack Obama and many Americans spent today trying to follow the example of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by doing some kind of service work for our fellow human beings.
Many in Washington, D.C., including this correspondent, spent the day in lines and receptions. Everywhere you went today, there were lines -- lines to get into museums, lines to get into receptions, outdoor lines to get tickets to the Inauguration, indoor lines at each Senator’s office, lines to get food, lines to get on the Metro. It was like Disneyworld without "It’s a Small World" echoing in the background.
Still, a pleasant and easy camaraderie prevailed. Everyone seemed to be enjoying one another’s company; we’ve never met, but we’re all old friends. And not terribly fixated on politics, either; I heard few or none talk about Democrats or Republicans, even Bush. One guy wearing a "Arrest Cheney First" headpiece -- yes, you read that right -- was greeted with a polite silence. Undoubtedly most people here voted for Obama, but still, if the day had a them e song it was not "We are the Champions" but "We are Family", with every last drop of kitsch that might involve.
In between lines, I found myself at a number of receptions, including one hosted in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress. Just being in the building was reason enough to attend; the Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It receives ten thousand new books every day. (The Copyright office receives twenty thousand.) Its underground storage facility is something like 20 football fields long. And -- a surprising fact -- each year it has to raise something like $100 million privately in order to make up the difference between its operating costs and its government allotment.
Not being a regular at political suarees, I spent my time in the finely ornamented hallways and reading rooms of our reception sipping cold water and taking note of those around me. The event seemed to consist of a number of unique groups, including many ordinary folks in golf shirts or long-sleeved plaids, sneakers, sweaters and blue jeans, who knew no one there but came because what the heck, they were invited, and who knows, maybe Sen. Burris or Durbin will show up? (Both did.)
The vast majority in attendance, though, were what we might call the peacocks, here to be seen in their suits and ties "making connections" and "doing deals". Perhaps they are the hogbutchers of, if not the world, at least some small suburb of it, and strutting as a sort of coping mechanism in the face of the political world of Washington which usually has its attention on bigger realities. Or perhaps they are the politerati of DC, simply wishing to make their presence known. Either way, it was difficult to tell whether I was supposed to know who they were, or just supposed to wonder whether I knew who they were.
With them came their children, the glazed-eye tweens exhausted with boredom already before the reception began. They’ve come to town to see Obama preach, not their dads preen, and they spend their imprisonment texting one another and snorting with disgust.
Other groups wander in and out: baby faced journalists (or were they college students) with news pads; photographers; hostesses for the night’s parties; and the occasional mayor, distinguished from the peacocks by the fullback’s height and breadth of shoulder, Mike Ditka-moustache and beefy royal demeanor. All in all, it’s a like a political family reunion, a gathering of all the old friends and enemies, crazy aunts and black sheep cousins together under one roof.
Later in the day I wandered over to the Smithsonian Museum of the Native American, the newest of the Smithsonian museums and also the one with the best food. As part of the inauguration festivities the museum hosted "Out of Many", a 3-day program featuring American musicians and storytellers from all races and walks of life. Seeing the lines were too long for lunch, even at 2:15pm, I wandered into a dazzling performance by a deaf dance troupe known as "The Wild Zappers". Based in Saint George’s County, Maryland, the Zappers perform jazz, funk and hip hop and other forms of dance to contemporary song. Their styles were energetic and heartfelt, and as the crowd silently applauded, waving their hands in the air in the American Sign Language fashion, I have to say I was glad I came.