Tuesday, January 11, 2005

He's No Jackson

I play golf with this guy who is the whitest man in Minnesota. He's been a staffer for ex-Sen. Rudy Boschwitz and republican fund raiser, but a sweet guy and great father and perfect gentleman. He's a true believer and keeps making me good-natured offers to come over to the other side and one day I do.

As a former leftie/artiste plus entrepreneur/business owner/jobcreator, I naturally catapult to visibility with the highest reaches of the party. Not many of us available. I'm honored to play understudy to the John Kerry surrogate who helped the President prepare for his debates. Right before he went on stage, I even got to smooth down the hump in his jacket left by the transmitter.

Still, I am stunned to find myself in the West Wing one day with a group of the President's closest advisors.

You should know Karl Rove is a competitive little cuss with an inferiority complex a mile wide that he covers with a mean streak, but he's really a softie deep down. Dick Cheney and I trade stories of the oil fields, including the one about the summer I worked in Casper, Wyoming, during the Summer of Other Priorities, and we have a good laugh about the time a rancher shut down 35 drilling rigs because I filled my truck from the wrong water hole on his land. "Now that's something I've never done," he chuckled, and he wasn't talking about pumping water.

And John Ashcroft... Turns out my sister was on one of his holiday ski trips as part of the security detail. He didn't remember her, but we agreed it was indeed a small world afterall, and then broke into spontaneous two-party harmony. Tom DeLay was running late, so they decided to start the meeting without him.

Andy Card introduced Jeanne Johnson Phillips, chairwoman of the inaugural committee. This time, he said, there was no question who won the election, and people were in a mood to celebrate America. Money was pouring in from contributors who'd never be asked to give to another Bush campaign. They were opening the soft money spigots in this one last chance to ingratiate themselves. $40 million. It was going to be some party.

Ms. Phillips started presenting the plans for the inaugural festivities. The theme — A Vision of America commemorating "the anniversaries of two significant events in American history that helped shape our nation — the centennial of Theodore Roosevelt’s formal inauguration as president in 1905, and the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition reaching the Pacific in 1805."

I could see the President's gaze already starting to wander. She went on to describe the parade, the fireworks and nine official balls that would "allow all Americans to stand together regardless of politics." 

It started to dawn on me... I had been invited because back 1976 I'd written an historical pageant funded with Bicentennial money . It tied together the German tribes' battles against the Romans in with the Dakota tribe's uprising against German settlers and the German settlers' resistance to American involvement in the first world war and ended with all the actors dancing together across the centuries—united by their dream of freedom.

Could they be looking for me to knit together Lewis and Clark, Teddy and George W., with ballroom dancing?

The President's eyes narrowed, "All Americans?"

"All the real ones," Karl responded.

"Sounds good." The President stood up and put his hands together—the sign the meeting was ending.

They were actually going to do this.

"Mr. President," I stammered. "You have an historic opportunity here. The country is sharply divided—not just by politics, but by class. We are at war. Fledgling democracies are springing up around the world..."

Dick Cheney was jerking his chin at Tom Ridge, like he was supposed to tackle me. I plunged onward.

"The moment is not about Westward Expansion or the Bull Moose Party. It is Jacksonian. (God, how I sounded like George Will right then!) When Andrew Jackson was elected, the country was struggling over states rights and distrustful of elitist ruling parties. He knew other countries were still looking at America to see if it would fail. At his inauguration, thousands of common people poured into Washington and took over the party. It was wild!

"Remember Charlton Heston as Old Hickory in The President's Lady? All the farmers came into the brand new White House with mud on their boots and ate all the ice cream or carted away the cheese and Charlton got smashed against the wall until he escaped out the window?"

I was losing them. Must get back on track. Ridge was circling.

"Well, Mr. President, you should not have any balls. You should just throw the inaugural on the White House lawn and invite everyone — every one — to join you for ice cream and to say a prayer for peace. No tickets, no formalities. Just say you're sending $20 million to the tsunami recovery and $20 million to protect Iraqi election workers. Wear your cowboy boots and be yourself."

He was looking intently at me now.

"Invite the kids who were in the classroom with you on 9/11 and show how many of them are reading so much better today. Invite the families who've lost loved ones to terror and hug each one who comes, if it takes all weekend, no TV allowed. Go ahead and cry, if you feel like it. Go for a jog with Bill Clinton and Jimmie Carter in the morning. Keep the speech short, and after Justice Rehnquist swears you in, take him and Nancy Reagan arm-in-arm and announce that you will give tax breaks to private companies funding their own stem cell research.

"It'll be a celebration no one will ever forget. A seismic shift in the national polarization. The..."

The President held up his hands.

"Who is this chickenshit?"


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