Steady rain and sleet, and even snow, are forecast for George Bush's presidential inauguration today in Washington. But even a blanket of winter weather cannot conceal the profound change of political and cultural direction in the capital as Mr Bush moves into the White House at the start of his four-year term.
Officials were considering whether the forecast storms would be bad enough to require them to move Mr Bush's swearing-in ceremony inside the Capitol building, before fewer than 1,000 guests. The last time that happened was Ronald Reagan's second inauguration in 1985.
Mr Bush told an interviewer yesterday that he was "not backing off" from his conservative political convictions. He had a blunt message for Democrats in the divided US Congress: They should work with the new administration "or they're going to be left behind".
Protesters hold up signs during a demonstration following the presidential inauguration in Washington, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001. Photo by Robert F. Bukaty (AP)
To those who believe that he "stole" the November 2000 election and is not entitled to appoint conservatives such as the putative attorney general, John Ashcroft, to his cabinet, he had an equally brusque response. "Too bad," he told Fox television. "I'm going to."
As Washington geared up for the change of regime, which will come at midday when the chief justice, William Rehnquist, administers the oath of office, a federal judge ruled that thousands of protesters must submit to unprecedented security checks before gaining access to streets in the centre of Washington. Some 750,000 people had been expected in the city centre before the weather took a hand.
The outward signs of the new regime are everywhere to be seen in the capital, nevertheless. Airports reported record numbers of private jets arriving in town, delaying commercial flights into Washington by up to three hours. Every stretch limo on the eastern seaboard is parked outside the city's hotels, and Stetsons and snakeskin boots are visible at every turn.
Mr Bush was guest of honour at a succession of candlelight dinners last night for more than 6,000 supporters who each contributed more than $2,500 to the $40m inaugural budget. He and his wife Laura were due to end the evening at the "Texas black tie and boots" ball costing $1.8m.
Every presidential inauguration tells a story of how the new man would like to be seen. Jimmy Carter refused to take the limo down Pennsylvania Avenue and walked to the door of the White House. Ronald Reagan, surrounded himself with Hollywood ostentation, implicitly proclaiming the opening of the "greed is good" decade.
Bill Clinton's inaugural festivities, eight years ago, marked the arrival of the rock 'n' roll generation in the seats of power. Chuck Berry played guitar, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen sang and Mr Clinton joined in, riffing on the sax in his shades, marking the arrival of the first hedonist in the White House.
The aesthetics of Mr Bush's inaugural celebrations have been more ambiguous. These have been days of partying in Washington, but the relatively subdued tone, compared with earlier transitions, is an unmistakeable reminder of the circumstances in which the new president is taking office. Mr Bush's low key message is that the important thing is to get on with the job.
Two years ago, the appearance of the Latino star Ricky Martin at an inaugural event would have appeared a very Bush-like statement about ethnic inclusiveness, This week it seemed merely middle of the road. Yesterday's concert in Washington "celebrating US youth" featured a succession of B-list acts. The celeb factor for this inaugural event is one of the lowest on record.
Many Republicans are relaxed with the absence of Really Big Names from the inaugural weekend concerts and balls. Hollywood is Clintonland these days, so the Bush people affect disdain for the celeb worship which became a hallmark of the outgoing era. When Frank Sinatra orchestrated the entertainment industry celebs' parade for Mr Reagan 20 years ago, on the other hand, Republicans had no such scruples.
The public events in Washington this weekend have also had their disingenuous side. Early reports said that the British stand-up comic Ben Elton would appear. The thought of the leftie Ben as part of a Bush lineup seemed hard to believe, and so it proved. He never showed up, because he was never going to.
Nor did Van Morrison, who had been improbably touted as part of the Bush celebrations. "Reports that Van Morrison will be performing or attending the inauguration ceremonies are false," said a press release from his record company.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2001