In his terrific and readable new biography of President Andrew Jackson, "American Lion," Jon Meacham reports on the absence of communications between President-elect Jackson and the man whom he defeated, President John Quincy Adams.
No courtesy calls and no conversation resulted in no plans for security or police assignments at Jackson's first inauguration. The result: thousands of Jackson's followers celebrating so raucously in and around the White House after the swearing-in that Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who was there and obviously displeased by the uninhibited merry-making of Jackson's unpolished partisans, branded the bash, according to Meacham, "the reign of King Mob."
Born into poverty and orphaned young, Jackson was the first common man to win the White House. He and his election represented as big a break with the past as Barack Obama and his victory do today. In a bizarre twist, the City Council of Washington, D.C. (where Obama won a mere 93 percent of the presidential vote), by moving to keep the city's bars open and pouring until 4 a.m. - for three days before the inauguration until the day after - invites turning the new president's historically joyful inauguration week into something out of a hung-over Mardi Gras or Super Bowl weekend.
To nobody's surprise, the Restaurant Association of Greater Washington is a prime mover behind the expanded hours. The visions of bulging cash registers overcame the expressed concerns of overstretched police forces charged with preserving order and security among a predicted 3 million visiting celebrants, more than five times the population of the city itself.
There will, of course, be hundreds of thousands of citizens - many, if not most of them, African-Americans - who will come to Washington to commemorate with restrained joy and appropriate solemnity these historic events "repealing" America's "original sin" of racism. There will be proud mothers and grandfathers reminding their younger loved ones (and themselves) that in America everyone - with hard work and talent - actually does have the chance to go to the very top.
But remember this: Barack Obama won in and lives in a YouTube world. As Garrett M. Graff, the editor-at-large of Washingtonian magazine - who fully grasps the interaction of politics and technology - has written, former Virginia U.S. Sen. and Gov. George Allen was "the first victim" of "the first presidential campaign of the information age."
In 2006, Allen, a popular social conservative, was the favorite among Republican insiders for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Then two things happened. Allen, running for re-election to the Senate, ran into an unorthodox and resourceful Democratic challenger, Jim Webb. And voters got a clear look at Allen's own abusive nature.
At a campaign event in rural Virginia in August 2006, Allen pointed out that S.R. Siddarth, the 20-year-old Webb campaign aide, was recording Allen's words. Allen, as observed by hundreds of thousands on YouTube, sought to humiliate the dark-skinned Siddarth, an American citizen whose parents were born in India: "This fellow over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is. ... Let's give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."
Macaca turned out to be a racial slur for which, eventually, Allen would futilely apologize. He had confirmed voters' worst suspicions about him and shown himself to be a bully by harassing the one young stranger in the crowd on the basis of his different skin color.
Barack Obama's Inaugural Address will almost surely be inspiring. The public ceremonies of the day will undoubtedly be both commendable and befitting. But what happens when an undermanned and exhausted police force, trying to keep traffic moving and the city peaceful, confronts drunken revelers? And they will. You can be sure that all such incidents will be caught on cameras.
The tragedy would be that a historic occasion and the new president's first words could be overwhelmed, eclipsed by some juvenile version of "Girls Gone Wild" or "American Pie" - viewable around the world on YouTube. Keeping Washington's bars open until 4 a.m. is one really bad idea.