Bill takes bus-ride to supreme power

Click to follow
FOR a wistful sunlit moment, it was the enchanted campaign of 1992 all over again. Bill Clinton was back on the bus, taking the slow road to supreme power. In 48 hours his home will be the White House. Yesterday, though, for a few hours, he meandered to Washington on a symbolic journey, through everyday America of which, for the next four years at least, he cannot be a part.

As closely as modern means of transport and the requirements of the Secret Service could permit, William Jefferson Clinton, the president-elect became Thomas Jefferson, as he retraced the route taken in November 1800 by the the founding father of the modern Democratic Party, when he travelled the 120 miles from from his country home of Monticello, near Charlottesville, to become the third US president.

An 'excellent adventure', Jefferson called his four-day odyssey nearly two centuries ago; but for Bill, Hillary, Al and Tipper, it was more accurately an excellent reminder - a six-hour procession by America's new royalty along the highways of central Virginia, so like that bus-born foray into the Midwest in July, which caught a country's imagination and launched Mr Clinton towards his victory in November.

And where better to stop than Culpeper? Seventy miles away in the capital, the opinion-makers are already having their doubts about the new regime. But here in this agreeably nondescript cameo of real America, where Body of Evidence, Madonna's latest film, is playing on Main Street, and a few blocks away Dee Dee's Family Restaurant offers a dollars 7.95 steamed crab special, the honeymoon lingers. Outwardly at least, there was no jarring intrusion of Saddam Hussein, no fly- zones and everything else that will be waiting in the White House situation room after midday on Wednesday; just half of Culpeper's 8,500 souls cheering and screaming in the sunshine outside the Baptist Church where the Clintons and the Gores, not to mention 1,000 parishioners, heard the minister, Herbert Browning, deliver a sermon entitled 'Living our Conviction'.

Thanks to God's moving hand, the President-to-be for once was punctual. At 12 noon on the dot he emerged, waving to the throng, ready for a ribs-and-turkey lunch. Then it was more of the soft Virginia countryside, through beflagged towns and hamlets with names such as Warrenton and Brandy Station, past MacDonald's and malls and gas stations, and the Clark brothers' famous Gun Shop near Opal, before arrival in a Washington agog with anticipation for a four-day carnival.

In fact it has already begun. By afternoon, the capital's great festive area was a sea of of stands, craft stalls, and entertainers great and small. 'America's reunion on the mall' was under way. By 5.30pm, a musical celebration had started at the Lincoln Memorial in the presence of 400,000. Then the Clintons led a procession across the Potomac to sound a replica of the Liberty Bell in the very shadow of Arlington Cemetery where his boyhood hero John Kennedy lies buried, before one of those firework displays which, all too briefly, can turn the world's most hard-nosed city into a benign fairyland.

Look closely yesterday though, behind the broad Clinton smile, and something plainly was different. The glad-handing was sober, almost pensive. No one knows better than he that an old way of life, in which words and image were all, has vanished. 'We want Bill,' they chanted. 'Thank You, Culpeper,' echoed that lilting Southern voice as his bus pulled away from the church.

But the title of Mr Browning's sermon was a superfluous reminder of what lies ahead. On Friday, just before he wrenched himself away from Little Rock, he went down to the bank of the Arkansas River, and gently nudged his daughter Chelsea's pet frog back into the water. 'Someone,' he mused to an aide, 'should be left to lead a normal life.'

(Photograph omitted)