Party time at the White House for glamorous George
THE NEW Year is upon us, with all its attendent changes — which, in Washington, will be many: a new President, a new Administration, a new Congress.
The anxiety over who's in, who's out, what's to be done, what's out of bounds, is everywhere palpable, from the hostesses who daren't give the first parties until the dust has settled and the winners are certain, to the lobbyists who skulk about the congressional corridors, awaiting to see whose pockets must be lined, whose favours curried.
The preparations for the inaugural balls are gathering steam. More than half-a-dozen were planned for the evening of the 14th, and advance notice leads one to suspect that the biggest and best will be the Texas one: at $2,000 a ticket, with guests coming from as far away as Zimbabwe (and a few, too, from good ol' Eaton Square, sources say), the Texan extravaganza should be hot as chilli and slick as those oil wells that brought fame and fortune to the state.
Every precaution is being taken lest the same flops of the last inaugural season take place — as many as four of the 1985 balls had had to be cancelled when their venues were closed down by the city's Fire Marshall as fire-hazards because of overcrowding. Party people are heaving a sigh of unanimous relief that the austerity which would have been de rigeur had Zorba the Clerk (as poor Dukakis was dubbed by Washington wit Mark Russell) danced into the Oval Office is nowhere evident.
The US of A may no longer be number one, the laps may be muscling into every market under the sun, but George Bush's Theme Song during the election period was "Don't Worry, Be Happy" — and that's the way they're going to play it, from Alaska to Alabama, from Paris, Texas to Naples, Florida. A Panglossian "Everything that happens happens for the Best" underlies the American mood, a possible hangover from the Reagan days that may need curing with a bit more than an alka-seltzer.
The transition from the Gipper to the Geek (slang for Wimp) is progressing smoothly: Hollywood glitter, astrology and designer dresses are out; white hair, ivy-league graduates and quail shooting are in. The president-elect, moreover, is being assiduously watched by all and sundry with regards to any possible health failings — a sneeze, after all could develop into a chest cold that may grow serious, and before you can whistle Dixie Dan Quayle (he of the JFK looks without the substance) will be sitting in the White House. God forbid.
WHILE the politicos sit back in their executive chairs and plan the strategy that will shape America's foreign and domestic
policy for the next four years, the plight of the homeless grows to unparalleled proportions: those too poor to afford homes, those addicted to drugs and alcohol who have not sought rehabilitation, those for whom the doors of the psychiatric wards have closed forever. . these vulnerable men and women swell the ranks of the street people, the bag ladies, seeking some heat from the sewer grills, some change from passers-by, a warm soup from the few-and-far-between churches that offer such services.
Happily, the Catholic Church has shown great initiative in combating this urban problem. In the city of Alexandria (an old tobacco port that is situated 15 minutes drive from downtown Washington) the Catholic parish of St John led 34 other congregations in setting up a shelter for 150 homeless. Twenty volunteers take turns from each congregation to man the shelter, which is now into its seventh week.
The Church representatives successfully pleaded with local real estate mogul Oliver Carr for a warehouse to house the shelter, and businesses have donated food, clothing and equipment. Washington advocate for the homeless Mitch
Snyder (who was joined late last month by Cher on his walk on the Capitol for the homeless) has held up the Alexandria churches as setting an important example for the rest of the community — he hopes that here in Washington, the religious communities will also help set up more shelters for the needy . . .
THE CURRAN affair continues to draw the press: endless editorials, countless commentaries have held up the
Catholic University vs Fr Curran controversy for all the nation, Catholic and non-Catholic, to see.
No matter what the outcome, Fr Curran has certainly awakened an interest in the right of the teacher, in the independence of the priest, in the question of dogma. Where does one man's conscience begin and end? How much can Fr Curran say as a theology professor who purportedly teaches Catholic thinking to his students? What right to freedom of speech (or any other form of expression, for that matter) does a man of God and Church enjoy? It's difficult in these times of moral ambiguity not to yearn for a tough, down-the-line conservative Church and Church man — someone who preaches white vs black, who instills a sense of good/bad that is crystal clear. But life ready makes for easy spoon-fed answers: Fr Curran is a thinker, and as such he cannot spout dogmatic formulae. He must turn the topic he focuses on this way and that, examining it under every different light, from every possible angle. Such perusal is difficult for some to accept, especially when they themselves are incapable of following suit.
It is perhaps because America has witnessed such a plethora of scandals during 1988 that the Curran battle seems so engrossing for those members of the public who would otherwise eschew such religious bickering. In the wake of men like Bakker, Swaggart, Hart, someone so rigidly principled, so forcibly in-earnest about his beliefs, comes as a much-needed antidote.
While Swaggart's threechinned round-cheeked face blubbers shamelessly on televised confessionals, Fr Curran stands quietly, unglamorously by his personal tenets of faith and allows the storm to blow all around him. His strength in the eye of the storm warrants esteem if not whole-hearted agreement. Unlike George Bush, Fr Curran need never fear the Wimp Stigma.
Cristina Odone is the Catholic Herald's Washington correspondent. Next week Jonathan Petre, religious affairs correspondent of the Daily Telegraph