INAUGURATION: George Bush Prepares for His Moment of Glory ; at Midday Today 700,000 People Will Gather to Watch the Swearing in of the 43rd US President as Bill Clinton Gives His Last Salute from Air Force One
Dejevsky, Mary, The Independent (London, England)
POWER IN the world's mightiest country changes hands at midday today, when George W Bush swears the presidential oath of office in front of the US Capitol, the massed ranks of the US Congress and television viewers around the world.
After an 18-month election campaign, five weeks of recounts and lawsuits, and one of the smoothest transitions in recent history, Mr Bush will become the 43rd President of the United States, and only the second son of a President to follow his father into the job.
Bill Clinton, meanwhile, will give his last salute as Commander- in-Chief before Air Force One whisks him to Chappaqua in New York's commuter belt - and his new life as a private citizen. He will not only be free of his presidential burden, but - perhaps more important - free of the threat of legal proceedings, after yesterday's eleventh-hour agreement with the special prosecutor. Now reflective and seasoned, Mr Clinton still looks far younger after eight years as President than his slightly harried successor. The prosecutor's decision yesterday not to proceed with charges linked to the Monica Lewinsky and Paula Jones cases lifted the last burden.
For anyone seeking auguries, a rain-soaked Washington had symbols aplenty. From the dismal weather, with the threat of sleet and snow, to the Stars and Stripes hung back to front on the US Treasury. Security was already tighter yesterday than at previous inaugurations. A usually relaxed and spacious city, if somewhat formal, Washington will have three times the usual number of police. The half-million or so people who will converge on the Mall from all over the United States to witness the swearing-in ceremony will pass through police checks for the first time.
With the election result so long disputed and some groups of voters, including many black voters, believing the election to have been "stolen" by a Republican elite, there are fears of unrest. Police and planners remembered the chaos at the world trade summit in Seattle and prepared for the worst.
Washington yesterday was subdued but expectant. Absurd stretch limousines glided in their dozens through the Friday traffic. Packed- out central hotels are hung with bunting, and guarded by police. After dark, out- of-towners stroll the streets, blithely unaware of the risks that wary Washingtonians always look out for. They smile benevolently and greet fellow pedestrians as though it were Sunday in their own small town. They want to feel at home in their nation's capital.
A new breed is in town - seen rarely under the baby-boom Clintons - the women clad shamelessly in furs and heavy with jewellery. The men in solid coats, hats and gloves. Last night, stetsons were out for the Texas pre-Inaugural ball; tonight, the partying will be all over town.
Without an individual to anchor the Constitutional system beyond the President, the week of inauguration feels almost perilous. …