I am back--but what an extraordinary forty-eight hours in the life of a sappy, flag-waving American.

Over the weekend, I visited the nation's capital for the first time.

Scheduled to fly into Reagan National after my last class on Thursday, I made a seemingly inauspicious start, snowed in and stranded at DFW for the evening.

The Upside: I had time to purchase and finally read Jan Crawford Greenburg's marvelous monograph from last year, Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court. The volume came highly recommended by Tocqueville, and he was absolutely right; it is a must read. More on that book in a later post.

I was lucky and fell into the very last stand-by seat on the first DC-bound flight on Friday morning; I finally arrived around noon. A bit inconvenienced but undaunted, I caught up with my wife, and we set out to explore the nation's capital.

Staying in a hotel on 14th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue (and considering my loyalties, interests, and preferred methodology), you might think our first stop would be the White House. But we decided to visit the branches in constitutional order: Article I first.

The Capital Police informed me that it was no longer possible to walk up the Capitol steps and walk into the front door of the People's House.

May the Terrorists burn in Hell.

Following a helpful suggestion from the officer, we contacted our congressman's office, located in the Rayburn Building (Texas Proud!), where we met his director of constituent services, who led us on a spectacular hour-and-one-half tour of the Capitol (more on that later).

After a night of fine dining at the Capital Grille (you only live once), and an in-room movie (since we were in Washington, Charlie Wilson's War seemed appropriate--and it exceeded my expectations), we set out on Saturday to celebrate Article II.

The White House. It is a commentary on my penchant to conflate pop culture with history, but as we approached the Executive Mansion I could not get Paul Simon out of my head: I'm going to Graceland, Graceland...

Seeing the White House is not an easy task. More high security and no tours without reservations.

May the Terrorists burn in Hell.

Although we walked all the way around the residence, it is only at the front, on the closed-to-automobile-traffic Pennsylvania Avenue side (across from Lafayette Square Park), that one feels even somewhat connected to the historic property.

Not surprisingly, this is where we saw a single CODEPINK anti-war protester. No one paid much attention to him (including the Capital Police officers). Although I cannot say with certainty that some unknown agents of the government did not come eventually to secretly cart him off with the intention of denying him habeas corpus, the pink-clad man seemed fairly content and unmolested in his misery.

After the WH we made our way to the Washington Monument, which is easy to find. Fittingly, the Monument to the indispensable man of American history fills the center of every frame of every picture from nearly every angle of the National Mall.

From the Monument, we walked along the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial. At some point en route to the Temple of Lincoln things got quiet. I fought back the emotion as I ascended the marble steps.

Things Lincoln often reduce me to tears.

I once heard a Lincoln scholar say that Lincoln quite consciously wrote for the ear, and to fully appreciate the majesty of his writing one must read him aloud, so I read quietly and deliberately--but nevertheless audibly--the words of the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural.

As a people, we can never be dedicated enough to the great task remaining for which this man gave his last full measure of devotion.

After Lincoln, we crossed the Potomac River and the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway to visit the honored dead at Arlington National Cemetery. From Robert E. Lee's lost front porch, one has an awesome view of the Federal City. On the way up we passed the eternal flame of JFK as well as the simple and isolated RFK resting place. The experience was well worth the hike.

Back down the hill and across the Potomac: the Korean War Memorial, FDR, and Jefferson--all awesome in their own way.

Later on we ate at the Old Ebbitt Grill and rode the Metro to Union Station.

The next morning: a long ride to Dulles and a flight back to Texas during which I read from the print edition of the Washington Post and Newsweek.

My sappy, flag-waving parting thought:

"While the storm clouds gather far across the sea,
Let us swear allegiance to a land that's free,
Let us all be grateful for a land so fair,
As we raise our voices in a solemn prayer. "

God Bless America

An UPDATE: Tocqueville notices that I neglected Article III and offers this virtual tour.