One America, A New Century

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WASHINGTON, D.C.: Bill Clinton had given a lot of thought to the fact that he was about to give not just his own celebratory second Inauguration speech, but the final such address of the millennium. Looking for a way to invoke the kind of Big Ideas that millennial thinking seems to demand, he scribbled revisions in his text right down to the wire. After attending a church service with his family, and basking in the oratory of Jesse Jackson, the President headed down to the ceremony on a frigid and overcast morning. As if on cue, the winter sun broke through the clouds just moments before the President raised his right hand, placed his left on a well-worn family Bible held by his wife, and took the oath of office. In his 25-minute speech, Clinton brushed over specifics, touching on inspirational themes. He called on Americans to transcend their differences and to open the doors of education and opportunity to all in what he called a new era and a new land. Cannon fire punctuated the applause that followed as some 250,000 people withstood near-freezing temperatures on the Mall to witness this celebration of American self-government. Though this Inauguration was a smaller, less lavish affair than Clinton's Hollywood-style blowout in 1993, the crowd seemed jubilant, buoyed by the gospel choir, Jessye Norman's powerful rendition of "America the Beautiful," and the verse of Arkansas poet Miller Williams. During the day that is set aside every four years to celebrate Democracy's peaceful transition of power, tensions that have plagued Washington momentarily disappeared. Speaker Gingrich led a delegation of GOP leaders in helping escort Clinton to the podium, then praised him good-naturedly in the President's traditional post-Inauguration visit to the Hill. Along the frigid parade route late in the afternoon, the mood of celebration was infectious. The crowd sang along as the Tennessee band marched by playing "It's a Grand Old Flag," like thousands of others up and down Pennsylvania Avenue waving flags of their own. A woman who admitted that she was a Republican who loathes Clinton said well of course she had come to take in the day's celebration: "no matter who it is, it's still the Inauguration." Soon enough tomorrow to take up those swords again.