There were no live armadillos or longhorn steer this year at the Texas Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball. The ladies in fur coats and men in 10-gallon hats danced, but not like they did in 2004, when Texas was the president’s political homeland.
By contrast, the Massachusettsians who packed into a party at Legal Sea Foods in downtown D.C. on inauguration weekend shined like the bottles of wine they were drinking.
From gay marriage to health care, from John Kerry’s foreign policy to Elizabeth Warren’s proposals for financial reform, it feels like the state has become an ideological center of gravity in Washington again.
“Massachusetts is back in the leadership business,” declared John Walsh, head of the Massachusetts Democratic party.
Marty Linsky, a faculty member at Harvard’s Kennedy School, later attributed the unusually high spirits among Massachusetts Democrats to something else entirely: “a sense of relief” that Mitt Romney isn’t president.
Near a table stacked with lobster rolls, a knot formed around Warren, who shook her head vigorously as she spoke. The people in this room care about investing in education and infrastructure — the same things she cares about, she said.
“I love being from Massachusetts,” she admitted.
John Kerry — the anointed one — made a cameo appearance, floating above the fray as he exits the political realm and passes into the world of policy. He didn’t stay long to work the crowd. Now he’s got North Korea — instead of the North Shore — to worry about.
You might think that the huge party celebrating the president’s election would be the one day that campaigning goes quiet, that politicians just sit back, enjoying what they have achieved.
Think again. Over the fried clams, the talk veered toward the next race. Will Markey replace Kerry in the Senate? If so, who will replace Markey in the House? Veteran campaigners seemed as hungry for the next race as they were for the next plate of tuna sliders.
A few hours later, across town, Governor Deval Patrick greeted guests who were being served baked goat-cheese balls and tiny open-faced roast beef sandwiches. As a line formed of supporters who wanted to take pictures with him, someone remarked: “He is looking rather presidential, isn’t he?”
But Walsh, the Democratic Party chair, said Patrick is pouring his energy into gathering support for his new budget plan for Massachusetts, not throwing his hat into the national ring.
“He is very focused now on these two big issues of education and transportation,” Walsh said.
But isn’t Patrick’s budget the kind of ambitious vision that — if it passes and succeeds — he could run on in the future? Maybe. If the rest of America looked anything like our state.
At the front of the grand room, near the door, David Axelrod and Ed Markey were engaged in animated conversation. A supporter in the crowd called out — “Senator Markey!” The congressman flashed a million-dollar smile over Axelrod’s shoulder and held up two fingers as if to say “I’ll be right with you in a minute.”
Then the young Joe Kennedy III walked in with his wife Lauren. His carrot top shined under the elaborate chandeliers, as he compared his first weeks as freshman in Congress to “learning how to drink from a fire hose.”
Every inauguration has its party, even when we are facing our starkest challengees. Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald sang at the pre-party of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961, when the country was in the throes of a battle over civil rights. (“Ask not what your country can do for you.”) America’s favorite cowboy, Tom Mix, performed rope tricks in the presidential parade of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Inauguration in 1933, the worst year of the Great Depression. (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”)
What will people remember about this inauguration 10, 20, 30 years into the future, after our country has passed through its current cultural crises — over deficits and taxes, over gay marriage and the “defense” of marriage? What will our country look like when we come out the other side? Where will all these politicians be then, and what disastrous or magnificent thing will they have accomplished?
All we can say for sure is that there will be an inauguration like this one, full of winners and losers. And the beating heart of politics will beat on.