Beyonce and Jay-Z chat with singer Kelly Clarkson after Beyonce sang the… (Getty Images )
In the weeks after President Jimmy Carter lost his reelection bid to Ronald Reagan, when I was a young reporter at the Washington Post, I was assigned to cover a luncheon on Capitol Hill honoring Patricia Derian, Carter’s assistant secretary of State for human rights. Reagan’s inauguration was days away, and Derian was facing a room full of dejected Democrats and longtime human rights activists. Some were nearly in tears. And since Derian was relinquishing her post, she had every reason to be the most bummed in the room.
Certainly she spoke gloomily about what the incoming administration might do to human rights policies. (I recall she used the word “dismantle” at one point.) Then suddenly her voice became calm, almost reverent, as she counseled her audience -- most of whom had more than a passing acquaintance with oppressive and violent regimes -- to marvel at something: the orderly transition of power in the United States. There would be no coup, no military takeover, no violence in the streets when Reagan took the oath of office, she reminded everyone. “The world isn’t going to come to an end,” she said.
I was so profoundly moved by what she said that I’ve never forgotten it. Of course, over the eight inaugurations that I watched or covered or attended, I would come to realize that, at some point, someone would offer some version of what Derian said and distill the greatness of our democracy down to that orderly transition. It’s just that Derian’s words got my attention first.
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But even if hearing that has become an expected bit of the ritual of Inauguration Day, it’s still fascinating to watch how it unfolds. Surely, the most fun part of that orderly transition is watching Democrats and Republicans who spent the year lashing out at one another schmoozing in the cold with each other and a flurry of other people who would not normally be at parties with them.
Seen: a grinning, chatty Rep. Paul Ryan, the former Republican vice presidential candidate, following Jay-Z and wife Beyonce -- fresh from having nailed "The Star-Spangled Banner" -- as they made their way slowly off the platform outside the Capitol. When else would Jay-Z and Paul Ryan even be in the same city, let alone on the same stage? And then, inside the Capitol, as guests milled about waiting for lunch, there was music star John Legend shaking hands with Bill Clinton. There was Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. suddenly by himself, looking around, smiling awkwardly -- until Democratic Sen. Carl Levin came over to talk.
Michelle Obama took her seat next to House Speaker John A. Boehner. Do you think he mentioned her new bangs? Cameras caught Bill Clinton deep in conversation with Rep. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader. “Today was a great example that we can get along,” Cantor later told a TV reporter who just had to know what they were chatting about.
Let’s see how orderly they can all be tomorrow.
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