Last week, I witnessed President Barack Obama, throngs of thousands and fireworks. And it had nothing to do with health care.
I also saw Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and every other chief executive - all the way back to George Washington.
They all were on stage together in the Hall of Presidents at Disney's Magic Kingdom in Florida. Audio-Animatronics is kinder to some than to others. President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. Obama recited the oath of office. Most of the presidents said nothing; they simply nodded when their name was called.
I was there on spring break with my wife, Amy, son John, 12, and daughter Hannah, 8. On Tuesday, they performed at Disney with the Floyd County Youth Symphony. John plays violin and Hannah plays cello; Amy helped the younger cellos. Floyd County was well represented by 75 students and adults who played Disney tunes on an outdoor stage.
We drove down and stayed for the week. I had never been to Disney, and neither had John or Hannah. Amy was the only one of the four of us who had been there before. The kids and I donned "1st Visit!" buttons and set out to take it all in. It had been more than 20 years since Amy's last visit, and much was also new to her.
The Magic Kingdom is one of four theme parks in Walt Disney World Resort. We visited three of the four. We skipped Disney's Animal Kingdom. With the legislative session having recently adjourned, I wasn't ready to go back to the zoo quite yet. In addition to the Magic Kingdom, we spent time at Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Throughout the week, I found myself thinking about politics in the context of Disney. I'll leave the character comparisons to your imagination.
According to Disney's Web site, the Magic Kingdom "captures the enchantment of fairy tales with exciting entertainment, classic attractions, backstage tours and beloved Disney Characters."
Change a few words and the sentence could describe Americans' current feelings about Congress: "The U.S. House captures the entrenchment of all that fails with political theatrics, classic distractions, backroom deals and besmirched party characters."
Watching what's been going on in Congress has made me even more thankful to be in the Indiana legislature, where the politics are polarizing but not paralyzing.
Like the Indiana legislature, Disney is quite an experience.
I arrived at both with an open mind and various expectations. In both cases, there were some surprises.
At Disney, I saw metaphors everywhere. The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular at Hollywood Studios included a live reenactment of the boulder scene from "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Think of the boulder as the current economic recession, threatening to crush us. Indiana Jones escaped, and so will we. After the boulder, he overcame many other obstacles, and so will we.
I would say the roller coasters also reminded me of the economy, but roller coasters go up and down. We've been in a downward plunge more akin to the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, a 13-story drop "into another dimension," as the Hollywood Studios map describes it. We didn't ride that one, but like all other rides, it does end, and everyone walks away.
I saw metaphors for many of our most important issues. The FASTPASS was one. Lines for many attractions were an hour or longer, and we weren't even there at the busiest time of the year. Enter the FASTPASS, which is available in limited quantities early in the day. After swiping your park pass at a ride, you receive a FASTPASS with a time to return for minimal or no waiting. Planning and preparation pay off. When your time comes, you return to the ride, enter through a special gate, present your timed pass and walk past those who are waiting in line without the benefit of a FASTPASS.
Every child deserves a FASTPASS in life, and education is it.
After two trips through the "it's a small world" musical indoor voyage, I had the tune stuck in my head:
"It's a world of laughter
"A world of tears
"It's a world of hopes
"And a world of fears
"There's so much that we share
"That it's time we're aware
"It's a small world after all"
A familiar voice called out, interrupting my reverie: "Ed Clere!" It was state Rep. Paul Robertson, D-Depauw. He and his family were vacationing in Daytona Beach, and they had come to the Magic Kingdom for the day. It's a small world after all.
Disney is indeed full of metaphors and other symbolism, not all of it always welcome. As a historic preservationist, I tried hard not to like Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom. Still, contrived streetscapes aside, it's difficult not to be charmed by Disney.
Disney is, in a word, optimistic, and we all could use a little more Disney-style optimism right now.
Walt Disney's Carousel of Progress is at once cheesy and charming. It's an Audio-Animatronics show in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. The theater rotates around scenes depicting progress over the last hundred years.
It left me with another song stuck in my head:
"There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
"Shining at the end of every day
"There's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow
"And tomorrow is just a dream away"
I plan to keep humming that tune.