Carolyn Lochhead, Chronicle Washington Bureau
Jan. 21, 2001
Washington, D.C. -- George Walker Bush became the 43rd president of the United States yesterday, vowing to lead a nation divided by a bitterly contested election "through civility, courage, compassion and character."
At 12:02 p.m. under a chilly drizzle, Chief Justice William Rehnquist presided as Bush recited the 35-word oath of office, placing his hand on the ceremonial Bible used by the nation's first president, George Washington, as well as by his father, George Bush.
George W. Bush takes the oath of office to become the 43rd president Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001, in Washington. (AP Photo/Doug Mills)
Hundreds of thousands of Americans stretching back through the Capitol Mall - some cheering, some chanting in raucous protest - witnessed the peaceful transfer of power. Bundled in fur or plastic ponchos, they applauded or booed, united by the damp cold and the import of a new presidency.
Moments later, with eyes welling up, Bush embraced his wife, Laura, and tousled the hair of his twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. He reached for the hand of his father - who wiped away a tear - and embraced his mother, Barbara Bush.
The president used his first address to the nation to underscore a call for unity and civility, using lofty and conciliatory language to acknowledge the divisions created by the longest and most contested presidential election in U.S. history.
Bush opened by thanking his Democratic predecessor, Bill Clinton, then turned to former Vice President Al Gore, the challenger who bested him in the popular vote but fell short in the decisive Elector al College, to express his gratitude "for a contest conducted with spirit and ended with grace."
Bush then moved swiftly to address the nation's divisions, calling on the American heritage and reaching toward the country's future.
"The peaceful transfer of power is rare in history, yet common in our country," he proclaimed. "Sometimes our differences run so deep, it seems we share a continent but not a country.
"We do not accept this, and we will not allow it," Bush declared. "Our unity, our union, is the serious work of leaders and citizens and every generation. And this is my solemn pledge: I will work to build a single nation of justice and opportunity."
Echoing John F. Kennedy's famous inaugural speech of four decades ago, Bush also issued a passionate call to service.
"Citizens, Not Spectators'
"I ask you to be citizens," the new president said. "Citizens, not spectators. Citizens, not subjects. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character."
Bush applauded the nation's diversity, saying, "America has never been united by blood or birth or soil. We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens."
Every immigrant, he added, "by embracing these ideals, makes our country more, not less, American."
Interrupted a dozen times by applause, Bush returned to the promises of his campaign stump speech, vowing to improve schools, reform Social Security and Medicare, and bolster the nation's defense. But he received the biggest cheers of the day, by far, when he renewed his promise to "reduce taxes to recover the momentum of our economy."
While Bush was cordial toward Clinton during the ceremony, he moved immediately to block some of his predecessor's last-minute decisions.
Within hours of being sworn in, he asked his chief of staff, Andrew Card, to take steps to suspend Clinton's final executive orders and regulatory rulings. Clinton's 11th-hour initiatives included closing off a third of federal forestlands from timber harvests or road-building and requiring health care providers to do more to protect medical privacy.
Bush also formally submitted the names of his Cabinet nominations to the U.S. Senate - and seven were approved within hours. They included Colin Powell as secretary of state, Ann Veneman of California as secretary of agriculture and Don Evans as commerce secretary.
For Republicans - reveling in GOP control of the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives for the first time since the Eisenhower era - the day was an exhilarating celebration after a bruising election.
"Unite the Country'
"His inaugural speech was both safe and strong, in that order," said Geoff Patnoe, a Republican from Silicon Valley who worked for former California Gov. Pete Wilson. Bush, he said, succeeded in addressing American's divisions with a compelling call to patriotism. "The themes about compassion were visionary ... it was a home run," Patnoe said.
Bill Evers of Palo Alto, a Bush education adviser, said the new president sought to show that "the ideals of the Revolution that the nation fought for are higher than the everyday scrabble of politics, and that we can unite the country around that."
But the 54th presidential inauguration, which involved the tightest security in history, also reflected the depth of the divisions that Bush seeks to heal. Vocal protesters thronged the parade route, spaced at strategic intervals, scuffling at times with police.
As Bush's new presidential limo headed up Pennsylvania Avenue, it was nearly hit with an egg and was greeted with some obscene hand gestures and "Bushwhacked'" placards.
Boos and anti-Bush chants at some points drowned out the cheers of thousands of supporters lining the route. Police in riot gear, sometimes five deep, flanked protesters representing dozens of different causes - from the pro-choice, pro-Gore Democratic contingents to the anti-fur and anti-trade factions.
The drizzle left many empty seats in the risers along the parade route, particularly in the VIP sections. Vendors sold umbrellas to parade-goers for as much as $20.
As the grassy Washington mall turned to mud underfoot, well-dressed Bush supporters, some in Texas furs and heels, mixed with bandanna- and poncho-clad Bush detractors, occasionally exchanging insults.
"Hail to the Thief'
"We have to speak up now - and for the next four years," said Dennis Greenia, wearing a "Hail to the Thief" poncho, as he stood near police clad in riot gear at 14th and K streets.
One of many along the route armed with "Gore-Lieberman" bumper stickers, Greenia added, "I fear for the future."
But Rob and Janelle Odishoo of Menlo Park, who snagged prime seats in front of the inaugural podium, were thrilled by the pomp and seriousness of the celebration.
"I'm absolutely awestruck," said Janelle. Rob added, "Republicans aren't too popular in the Bay Area, but that's OK."
The protests underscored some of the challenges Bush will face, with a closely divided Congress and lingering doubts about his legitimacy because of the disputed ballot count in Florida. And Bush, who was sworn in yesterday by the chief justice of the court that narrowly blocked the Florida recount, will have to reach out to minorities, after the worst showing of any Republican president among African American voters in 36 years.
"To convince all our brothers and sisters, who feel he is diametrically opposed to their philosophy, is going to take a lot of work," said Anthony Morris, a black Democrat and Bush supporter, who flew from Houston to watch the swearing-in ceremony.
In the center of protests, the Bush motorcade sped up dramatically as it passed Freedom Plaza, forcing Secret Service agents walking beside the presidential limousine to break into a full run. But a block later, Bush got out of the bullet-proof vehicle and, holding hands with his wife, walked the last 200 yards to the White House, their home for at least the next four years.
The Bushes - joined by Vice President Dick Cheney, who took the oath just before him - and Cheney's wife, Lynne, and daughters Mary and Elizabeth - then watched the pomp of the inaugural parade, surrounded by their extended families, dignitaries and the incoming Cabinet. Just as Bush sat down, a cold sleet began falling.
Bush wrestled with an umbrella and settled in to watch the bands, floats, horseback riders and collection of performers - from a precision lawn chair demonstration team to a group of women from Idaho dressed in blue aprons and dancing with shopping carts.
For Bush, the day - particularly the moment he took the oath - marked the fulfillment of a pledge he had made at virtually every campaign stop along his nearly two-year road to the White House.
In speech after speech, he reminded voters of the scandals and character lapses of his Democratic predecessor, promising to bring a new era of change. "When I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear not only to uphold the laws of our land," Bush said hundreds of times during his campaign. "I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."
Carolyn Lochhead was the Washington correspondent for the San Francisco Chronicle, where she covered national politics and policy for 27 years. She grew up in Paso Robles (San Luis Obispo County) and graduated from UC Berkeley cum laude in rhetoric and economics. She has a masters of journalism degree from Columbia University. Twitter: @carolynlochhead