A Capitol adventure: Joining the party of all parties in Washington DC
Mark Leftly is political correspondent at The Independent on Sunday and associate business editor across the Independent titles. He writes a weekly column, Parliamentary Business, published on a Wednesday, that covers politics and the City. He is a multi-award winning reporter and was named Press Gazette's business magazine journalist of the year prior to joining The Independent on Sunday.
Friday 25 January 2013
The Kennedy Room in The Capitol Lounge, a short walk from the US Congress, was rammed full of Democrats who had been swept away by Barack Obama's soaring oratory, as well as buckets-full of strong craft beer.
The adjoining bar, the Nixon Room, was empty as Republican aides stayed at home on presidential election night 2008. They recognised that John McCain had no hope of defeating his relatively inexperienced, but extraordinarily charismatic, challenger – and no Dem would set foot in something branded with their own personal curse word, 'Nixon', on this of all nights.
We had snaffled a table in the Kennedy Room late afternoon on that chilly November day, but the television screens had become totally obscured by delirious Dems who were increasingly unsteady on their feet. We decided to take a wander into the Nixon Room for a better view of states turning Democrat blue on the broadcaster's map, but thought better of it when Capitol Hill's finest started booing us as traitors.
I'd always wanted to visit Washington DC, particularly during a presidential election. Earlier in the year it had seemed certain that the race would be between the oldest candidate in history (McCain) and the first black (Obama) or female nominee (Hillary Clinton) – and so with a redundancy payment from the closure of my old magazine, we went to experience one of the most significant chapters in US political history.
Nobody does elections like the States: I can't think of too many people who are likely to have a Cameron or Miliband for 2015 key-ring, but in DC, election merchandise could be bought in hundreds of shops. Even now, I sip coffee from my Sarah Palin 'We can do it!' (no, you couldn't) mug and my fiancée still wears her Obama/Biden '08 T-shirt to bed.
What made this trip unique was the near- carnival atmosphere outside the White House shortly after McCain's concession speech. From several streets away, you could hear joyful screams that Obama would erase from memory both George W Bush's presidency and the Iraq War, as what seemed to be DC's entire African-American community partied their way through the night.
About 300 revellers formed a procession from Obama's new home to the white marble Peace Monument on the Hill, which is dedicated to sailors who died during the Civil War. This is hardly a long march – less than two miles – but we walked for what seemed like hours, twisting and turning through the streets of DC, as drivers beeped their horns and shook our hands while we closed in on our final destination.
It was around 3am when the Peace Monument was finally conquered, a swathe of black faces waving US flags on a memorial to a war that was so defined by race. Four police cars turned up but kept a respectful distance of around 100 yards, while the "Bush, out" chants started up again.
When I got back to my hotel a few hours later, I rather groggily wrote a short article on the night's adventure that, rereading it now, made little sense in all the excitement and understandably wasn't published. But, I remember the conversation of the last few lines quite vividly:
A Brit, Paul – a genetics student from Imperial College in London – can't help but laugh at the scene. A few days earlier, he had attended a Palin rally where he'd expected some "irony": students attacking her stance on guns, abortion and moose.
It hadn't happened.
"I hitchhiked down for this."
He didn't regret it.
And neither did anyone else who shook their booties outside the White House and the domed Capitol building on that craziest of nights.
More politically-correct destinations
* Tours to North Korea come with government guides but there's no doubt this isolated country holds a great political fascination. Group tours are the best option, some offering 'exploratory' itineraries accessing rural regions. regent-holidays.co.uk
* Take a slow tour through Palestine and Israel offering an overview of the political geography of this hotbed region, and its beautiful landscapes. The 10-day Biblical Footsteps group tour takes walkers through the holy lands. ramblersholidays.co.uk
* Since the boycott on tourism was lifted and Aung San Suu Kyi released, it's once again become politically correct to visit Burma. Tour operators have returned – but with the military junta still in power, travellers are encouraged to avoid using military-owned services. mountainkingdoms.com
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