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Saturday, 20 January, 2001, 23:53 GMT
Eyewitness: Moment of history
US capitol
Cold, wet weather did not dampen inaugural enthusiasm
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Despite a cold, almost icy rain, hundreds of thousands of Americans turned out to see the inauguration of George W Bush as the United States' 43rd president.

They came to witness history.

Some were here to support their party and their president, others to support their country and the peaceful transition of power and others to denounce what they saw as an illegitimately elected president.

Cold, wet day

In a ceremony following the swearing in, Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert presented the new president with two flags, the American flags flying over Congress during the inauguration.
inaugural crowd
The crowd stretched from the Capitol down the National Mall

But he said, "I'm not going to hand them to you because they are a little wet."

And it was not just wet; it was also cold.

The forecast called for a wintry mix, and the drizzle turned icy as the time for the inauguration approached.

Solemn members of the Supreme Court donned plastic rain ponchos to keep dry.

But the weather did not stop hundreds of thousands of people from turning out for the ceremony.

Religious references

A British observer of America once said to me that the United States was unique in the world in that it has a civic religion.

While the separation of church and state is guaranteed by the constitution, Americans revere their democratic institutions with a fervour most societies reserve for the sacred, and of course, the constitution itself serves as the sacred civic text.

There may be no time when this is more evident than during the inauguration of the president - the ceremony has all the makings of a religious complete with choir, invocation and benediction.
Suprem Court judge
Even the Supreme Court members had to bundle up

And George W Bush only heightened this sense with Biblical references during his inaugural address.

In talking about poverty, he said: "And I can pledge our nation to a goal: When we see that wounded traveller on the road to Jericho, we will not pass to the other side."

Supporting the presidency

George W Bush also stressed unity during his speech, which made an impression on those in the crowd who, while not supporters of the new president, felt it important to support the country.

John Horn came all the way from Telluride Colorado, halfway across the country, to see the inauguration.

When asked if he was a Bush supporter, he said after hesitating, "I think I support the presidency as much as anything."

Mr Horn said that Mr Bush's focus on compassion was necessary. "As we move forward, those are things that are going to unite the country."

Republicans celebrate

There are some Republicans that so detest Bill Clinton that they only barely stop short of calling him the devil incarnate, and they were overjoyed to see him go.

When President Clinton was introduced, there was little applause.

As George Bush said the words, "so help me God," thereby completing the oath of office, a woman behind me said breathlessly: "Finally."

She could have been referring to the end of the protracted election process, but I remembered at the Republican convention the thunderous applause Mr Bush received when he promised to end the Clinton-Gore era.

Republicans are not happy just to see George W Bush in the White House. They are happy to see Bill Clinton leave.

Rob Scheffey came from New Jersey to cheer on President Bush, even if he was too far away to hear the speech.

"This is the first time that I've got to vote for a winner," he said.

He supports Mr Bush's anti-abortion, tax cut platform and feels it is more important that Mr Bush pursue his agenda than focus on uniting the country.

"There are a certain group of people who will never support him, just as there are people that would never support Bill Clinton, including me," he said.

He added that he did not expect Bill Clinton to reach out to him, and he does not expect Mr Bush to reach out to those who did not support him.

Protest and conflict

Mr Bush had his detractors at the inauguration.
police clash with protestors
Protestors clashed with police away from the inaugural site

Jerry West carried a sign that said: "W: The Illegitimate son of American politics."

And the raw feelings of the election continue. Mr West complained that Bush supporters tried to rip his sign out of his hands and yelled profanities at him.

And when I stepped up to speak to Mr West, someone yelled to me: "Why don't you talk to a supporter?"


Bush presidency:


Texts and transcripts:


See also:

20 Jan 01 | UK Politics
'No change' in US-UK relations
19 Jan 01 | Americas
Clinton escapes Lewinsky charges
20 Jan 01 | Americas
Doubts remain about Florida vote
19 Jan 01 | Americas
Bush promises fresh start
13 Jan 01 | Americas
Hoteliers cash in on Bush's big day
14 Jan 01 | Americas
The Clinton years
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