Now the party's over, it's time to clear up the mess: A personal view

A CHRISTMAS card sent to my London home from Washington shows a winter scene on Capitol Hill. My friend had written inside: 'Our generation rules the world] Come home]'

There was no mistaking the triumph of the rock 'n' roll generation in the US capital last week. The pre-inaugural gala for Bill Clinton kicked off with Chuck Berry and Little Richard. It ended with Mr Clinton, and Al Gore and their families joining Fleetwood Mac to sing choruses of the campaign theme song 'Don't Stop (Thinking about Tomorrow)'. Mr Clinton even reminded the world in his inaugural address that 'we march to the music of our time'.

Some of 'our' music was, admittedly, kept off centre stage. The Grateful Dead, survivors of the sex-and-drugs era, were confined to the 'people's concerts' on the Mall. The music of youth rather than nostalgic middle age played little part. Michael Jackson performed (invited at 12-year- old Chelsea's request). But where was Madonna? None the less, 'inclusiveness' was one of the buzz words of the week. In the sometimes grandiloquent language of his inaugural address, President Clinton spoke of 'the faith that our nation can summon from its myriad diversity the deepest measure of unity'. Even some Republicans wished the President well.

Like everyone else, they are aware of the scale of America's economic and social problems, and they doubt the ability of government to solve them. The script for the week was provided by Mr Clinton's Hollywood friends, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason and Harry Thomason. The object was to build momentum for political change. The President of the United States must lead the nation, but he can command comparatively little. Members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, governors and even mayors cannot be dictated to.

George Bush, who lacked the 'vision thing', the ability to mobilise popular support through gesture and language, scored the lowest success rate in congressional votes of any president in the 39 years that the Congressional Quarterly has been tracking this measure. Mr Clinton has been employing his warmth, his friends and the hopes of the people to build a base for his leadership. In his inaugural speech, he excoriated 'powerful people who manoeuvre for position', and called for 'sacrifice' and 'responsibility'. No matter how contrived, most of the week's events in Washington, with their focus on honouring those who have given service to others, were intended to build support for the Clinton administration's still vaguely formulated objectives.

Many of my personal memories of this city are connected with anti-Vietnam war demonstrations. Washington was then alien territory. It is difficult to see the heart of the enemy become the soul of a friend, but Mr Clinton has found the right words this week to encapsulate my unease. He has touched on the themes of renewal, compassion, service and equality that animated the idealism of my generation; but he has done so with some awkwardness, and some hesitancy, in the voice of a man who knows how difficult it is to perform ourselves what we have always demanded of others. After his inauguration, Mr Clinton attended a lunch with the leaders of Congress in the Capitol. Called on to say a few words, he radiated the deliberate, and perhaps calculated, charm we have come to know, and occasionally to suspect. As Senator Wendell Ford, chairman of the congressional committee that managed the inaugural ceremony, droned on, the camera focused on the pensive face of Bill Clinton. He looked very young and very scared. He had been President of the United States for an hour, and it seemed as though he had just been told that Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait again.

Neal Ascherson, page 23

(Photograph omitted)