The country might not be totally crippled, but this morning its outgoing vice president showed up to Barack Obama’s inaugural event in a wheelchair. At least Dick Cheney doesn’t have to worry about spineless health insurance in treating his trick back, and there was something karmic about one of the Bush’s policy architects leaving office somewhat traumatized. Not that we relish the suffering of anyone, as today marks the beginning of a national healing, of sorts, with the change not only in leadership but in national tenor.
Watching Obama take the oath of office today, I’m struck by what football coaches often say after winning the Super Bowl. It’s not always a feeling of euphoria. Rather, it is a sense of relief. The 49ers head coach, George Seifert, said that after his team won the title in 1995. Sensing that, today I watched the inaugural event at the home of onetime Clark County Democratic Party operative Peggy Maze Johnson, who has been a friend of mine for eight years. I met her and her husband, Ernie, at about the moment Bush took his oath of office in 2001 – our friendship spans all of the Bush years and I wonder what we’ll have to talk about now that we can’t complain about W.
The past eight years have often been a rollercoaster ride for all of us, no question. The last time Peggy was in the news, she was agitatedly resigning her post as the executive director of the Clark County Democratic Party, a casualty of the party’s botched convention at Bally’s (for posterity, see her letter of resignation here). Now she works as a public policy and political consultant as president of her own small company, PMJ Consultants. She also turned 70 in January, yet is as fiery as ever. She says she owes her youthful energy to “immaturity.”
There was only a small group of us, just five folks, at Peggy’s. Ernie was busy at work with as foreman for a plumbing crew at City Center. He watched all the hooey on the Planet Hollywood JumboTron, with the radio tuned on so he could hear what was happening. One of our members was a man who goes by the handle of British Rick, who grew up in England and has lived a lot of life. As Obama strode toward his seat before the hundreds of thousands of cheering Americans, he said, “This reminds me of when Churchill took over for Chamberlain in 1940. After he became our leader, nothing changed. But, everything changed.”
I got that, sort of. At this writing I happen to be at the Planet Hollywood, having interviewed Miss Nevada for a bit and will be off in my usual, unusual reporting routine. I’m struck by how reserved we were today, even during this momentous occasion. It was a time to exhale. Peggy talked of her first vote, for John Kennedy, and how Obama inspires the same sense of hope today as Kennedy trumpeted in 1960. She also said that the last time Americans were so eager to be rid of a president was in 1968, when Lyndon Johnson was in office. We all tried to read into the look on George W. Bush's face during Obama's speech, especially when he talked of the very real crisis the country is facing. To me, the oft-grinning outgoing president seemed to be having a pretty good time.
One of us mentioned that the Las Vegas Hilton showroom was broadcasting the event to hundreds of people in the place where Elvis made his Vegas comeback. I asked Peggy if she considered going down there to share in the experience, and she responded, “No. I don’t like to cry in front of strangers.” And at that, she wiped away a tear.