The day of pageants and protest and prayer and 10,000 No Parking signs is as close as America comes to a coronation day. What is typically crowned is not so much a prince as a promise, for what the next four years might bring. President Bush stretched that tradition far past the horizons of his second term. His goal, he declared, was nothing less than freeing every human being on Earth. "It is the urgent requirement of our nation's security," he said, "and the calling of our time."
No longer running for anything other than history's judgment, George W. Bush delivered his second Inaugural Address under a cold sky to a sea of hats--fur and knit and 10 gallon. Laura looked like a bride in white. The only warmth came from the words, a 21-min. oration crackling with imagery burning almost out of control: the "day of fire" that changed everything three years ago, the "untamed fire of freedom" that "will reach the darkest corners of our world." The message embedded inside the address was, in the words of a White House adviser, "Don't back down. No surrender. It was democratic evangelicalism."
The thwump of the 21 guns beneath the strains of Hail to the Chief was a reminder of the thin line between war and peace. So was the uncommon security. The celebrations occurred in a city divided literally: 100 blocks closed, with buses blocking the streets; 13,000 soldiers and police, including 3,000 newly deputized officers from as far away as Seattle and Miami, freshly equipped with hats and gloves. There were cops on bikes, in plainclothes, in helicopters; sharpshooters on roofs; Coast Guard cutters on the Potomac; dogs sniffing for bombs; police confiscating fruit lest it be thrown. They were on guard against the unseen enemy and the visible disruption.
In protest, people had been called to pray, fast, dress in black (one woman wore nothing but red-white-and-blue underpants), turn their backs, skip work, boycott gas, spend "Not One Damn Dime" to bring the economy to a halt for a day of lament. There were flags burned and snowballs thrown, much jostling, some pepper spray. The satirical Billionaires for Bush auctioned off Social Security and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge before moving on to their Re-Coronation Ball (its code: "Dress to oppress"). The spirit of the First Amendment floated down Pennsylvania Avenue, between protesters chanting "Racist, sexist, anti-gay. Bush and Cheney, go away" and their opponents answering "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" Some signs declared GOD BLESS THE RED, painted over a map of the country, while others cried DRAFT THE TWINS and HOLD SOMEBODY ACCOUNTABLE.
To rewire the charge that a $40 million party was too gaudy for wartime, the night before the Inauguration was devoted to a salute to soldiers and service, although that gala was followed by the Texas Black Tie & Boots Ball, complete with live armadillos and Bevo--the University of Texas' longhorn steer--20,000 yellow roses and cowboy boots dipped in silver as centerpieces. On Inaugural Night, President and Mrs. Bush waltzed through nine balls in record time, belying their song, I Could Have Danced All Night, before heading back to the White House by 10:03 --1 1/2 hours ahead of schedule. --With reporting by John F. Dickerson/Washington