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JIM LEHRER: Here we are now – George W. Bush, 54 years old – the word “elect” is no longer part of his title. He is now the 43rd President of the United States, a reminder that he is a man who was born in New Haven, Connecticut, while his father was attending Yale. He was raised in Midland, Texas. He’s been married to Laura Welch Bush for 23 years. They have twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna. And George W. Bush is – as I say – is now the 43rd President of the United States. Let’s go around to our folks here and some final thoughts about this day, this president, and where we are, starting with you, Roger, Roger Wilkins.
ROGER WILKINS: Well, you know, I read someplace, Jim, that the first time blacks participated in an inauguration was in 1865, at the end of the Civil War, the beginning of Lincoln’s second term, and I was thinking about that as I looked this morning. I was there when President Johnson swore in the first black Cabinet officer, Robert Weaver of HUD, and I looked at Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice and Earl Caldwell, and these are Republicans; they’re not the blacks’ party, but the fact is that you look and America has changed; it’s a different place, and you cannot pass by the enormous fact that a black man is the Secretary of State for the first time. So, that I find quite moving.
JIM LEHRER: Michael Beschloss.
MICHAEL BESCHLOSS: I think that’s great too. Two other things, Jim: you know, one is that only a month and a half ago we were all talking about this, and it was the middle of that contested election. Still, we almost never dreamt that this day could have taken place as it has. This is what an inaugural is supposed to be. This is why we have these things. It’s like the end of a play where everyone who’s been fighting each other on stage during the three acts finally come out on stage and grab hands and take a bow together and unified. It really happened; and I think it’s a lovely moment. The other thing is what must have been going through the mind of Bill Clinton. I remembered a little bit — Lyndon Johnson who was, needless to say, a huge political foe of Robert Kennedy, then a Senator from New York, was always worried that if Kennedy was elected to succeed him, LBJ would be seen as nothing but a transition between two Kennedy presidencies, and you almost wonder whether Bill Clinton feels the same way about two Bush presidencies.
JIM LEHRER: Richard Norton Smith.
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I guarantee you, Jim, the last time you’ll hear the name of Rutherford B. Hayes.
JIM LEHRER: Do you promise?
RICHARD NORTON SMITH: I promise. (laughter among group) The last president to come out of a disputed election – I looked at his inaugural address – and he said 125 years ago “he serves his party best who serves his country best.” I think I heard that reaffirmed today, and I think that’s got to be encouraging.
JIM LEHRER: Haynes Johnson.
HAYNES JOHNSON: We use that term “peaceful transfer of power” so often, and it’s almost become a cliché, but that’s the miracle of this democracy; and it happened again. And you watched all the bitterness, all the dissent, all the anger that was there, and we saw it transfer itself peacefully once again. No other society has done that ever. We’ve only had 42 men – they call them 43 Presidents, who have been president in 212 years, and there’s been bitterness in all that time, but always ends in this kind of peaceful transfer. We ought to be very fortunate about that.
JIM LEHRER: Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: Well, just to bring up Rutherford B. Hayes one last time.
JIM LEHRER: Oh, come on, Doris.
DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN: The night before his inauguration they were so worried that the protests would be so great he actually took a private oath in Grant’s White House fearing that the protest would prevent him from doing it the next day; they did not. And clearly here they wouldn’t even have to think in those terms, which shows the greater confidence I think now in the country being able to accept this decision even though people are upset on the side in knowing that we are moving forward, and, indeed, we are.
JIM LEHRER: Paul Gigot.
PAUL GIGOT: I want to elaborate on something Richard Norton Smith said, which I agree with, which is that this was an actually fairly ambitious speech, I think, in some ways politically. Mike Gerson, who’s a speechwriter for this, said, looked at John F. Kennedy’s inaugural and said it had been really about the Cold War and redefining his party, and how it was perceived on international and military affairs, and I think there was a lot of that on the domestic side here with George W. Bush today, trying to redefine what conservatism is and means as a philosophy, with inclusivity, problem solving, taking on education and reviving citizenship. I thought that this was a challenge for him, but it wasn’t just a middle of the road speech; he’s trying to transform how conservatism is perceived as a governing philosophy.
JIM LEHRER: Mark.
MARK SHIELDS: It came back, I thought, to the early George W. Bush. I can recall in this broadcast our discussing George W. Bush before the McCain challenge emerged really, and he went around the country visiting inner city schools, spending time invariably in the company of minorities, and trumpeting himself as a different candidate – and he returned, I thought, to that. And every leader, Jim, by evoking his leading of our past, tells us where he believes the country is and where he wants to lead. And he used phrases today like we are a slave holding society that became a servant of freedom with a story of power that went into the world to protect but not possess, to defend but not to conquer. I think it told us about George Bush’s perception about where he wants to lead America. And I thought finally the – the remark that he made about the country and many other citizens that Roger mentioned earlier – others doubt the promise of our country. “The ambitions of some Americans are limited by failing schools and hidden prejudice, and the circumstances of their birth.” And I thought that was a recognition and an understanding that one oftentimes doesn’t hear in partisan political rhetoric.
JIM LEHRER: Thank you, Mark. Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Roger. Thank you, Doris, Michael, Richard, and Haynes, and Gwen Ifill. And that concludes our inaugural coverage. We’ll be back at our regular NewsHour time Monday evening. Until then you can find out more about the inauguration on the PBS NewsHour Web site. I’m Jim Lehrer. Thank you and good afternoon from Washington.