15 Nov 2008

The Transition Narrative

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Philip Terzian, in the Weekly Standard, waxes ironical on the dawning of the Chosen One’s Brave New America.

You may have noticed that some presidential Transitions are more equal than others.

Here is my theory: When a Democrat is succeeded by a Republican in the White House, it is seen as a civic regression, the triumph of dirty politics over clean statesmanship (see Willie Horton, the October Surprise, Lee Atwater, etc.). But when a Democrat replaces a Republican, it’s a national rebirth, a celebration of renewal and the natural order of things.

An expatriate Briton, now deceased, liked to tell the story of dining one evening in early 1969, on the eve of Richard Nixon’s first inaugural, at the Rive Gauche, a fashionable Georgetown restaurant favored by Jackie Kennedy and friends, long since gone. As their meal progressed, he and his companion observed that the place was swiftly filling up with people they didn’t know, or even recognize, total strangers. And then it hit them: The Republicans had arrived!

Of course, this mixture of alarm and condescension–Tip O’Neill to Ronald Reagan: “You’re in the big leagues now” (1981)–is very different from the tone currently surrounding Barack Obama, or the arrival of Bill Clinton–“Bill and Al’s Excellent Adventure,” the Washington Post (1992)–a decade-and-a-half ago. Certainly as far as the media are concerned, a Democrat-to-Republican Transition is an ominous thing, as the black clouds and killer insects descend on the nation’s capital; a Republican-to-Democrat Transition, by contrast, is a tribute to life, an Ode to Joy on the Mighty Wurlitzer of political Washington.

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