Imperial Washington in the 90’s is the gaudiest political theater since the Emperor Elagabalus went to his reward, and Clinton’s second inauguration was as sophisticated as an Arkansas high school prom, complete with theme—”An American Journey”—and decorations: a mock-up of the President’s Bridge to the 21st Century.

The celebration stretched out for a week, with tent shows, church services, and a Sunday night gala performance hosted by Whoopi Goldberg, Candice Bergen, and porn-star Michael Douglas. Barvshnikoy limped and shuffled around the stage to patriotic music, and Stevie Wonder (no one this fat can be called “little”) performed with a Gospel choir, as the President vainly tried to keep time with his hands.

He repeated his hand-jive performance the next morning at an A.M.E. church service in honor of Martin Luther King, where he was lectured on character and morality by the Reverend Jesse Jackson. They made a perfect pot-and-the-kettle twosome, since the Reverend Jackson’s personal and financial shenanigans arc a match for Clinton’s—Jackson is even said to have faked his role at King’s deathbed.

There was some carping, even from Democrats, about the conspicuous expenditure in a bankrupt city, where only two miles from the Capitol, D.C. residents are living in urban squalor. The total bill was something like $43 million, although less than $12 million was being paid for by American taxpayers. The cost seemed particularly extravagant for what is, after all, a repeat performance.

The White House tried to generate a sense of excitement by releasing rumors that Clinton was hard at work on his speech, boning up on previous inaugural addresses and reading poetry. In fact. the President must have had a hand in writing his speech—it was that bad. He began with a series of progressive cliches, how this great nation, founded on the principle “that all men are created equal,” ended slavery in the last century, saved the world from tyranny in this one, extended opportunities to women, and ended up as “the world’s indispensable nation.” The President then declared his new political creed: “Government is not the problem, government is not the solution. We, the American people are the solution.” (By Clinton’s logic, the people would also have to be the problem.) We were told to hold onto the old ideals of the American promised land, while building a new “land of promise,” which would entail “a new government for a new century.” We had tried a republic, moved on to democracy, and now it is time for change.

Declaring the “future is up to us,” Clinton told Americans that they would have to assume personal responsibility not just for themselves and their families, but for the entire nation. If it takes a village to raise a child, then every child’s parent is responsible for everybody else. Or something like that. A bright new day was dawning as we entered the new millennium, with equal opportunity for all boys and girls in the schools of their choice. “Our streets will echo again with the laughter of our children.” Yes, I thought, as the Fairy Queen’s threats echoed in my head, and “titles will ennoble then, / all the common councilmen, / and a Duke’s exalted station / be attainable by competitive examination.”

Only W.S. Gilbert could do justice to the Clinton dream. He would have enjoyed the whole day: a children’s choir of every combination of race and gender except the white and male, singing about “the rainbow bridge to the 21st century.” the President mouthing the words of patriotic songs during Jessye Norman’s performance, as if the diva required his assistance, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist’s attempt to get through the oath as quickly as possible only to be bogged down by Clinton’s bathetic solemnity. Quickly shaking hands with the President, Rehnquist scuttled off the dais without further ceremony, probably in a hurry to get on with the Paula Jones case.