By Richard Larsen
Published – Idaho State Journal, 01/18/2009
One of the most remarkable characteristics of this republic of ours is about to be played out on the world stage. The peaceful transfer of power from one president to another, from one administration to the next, is truly amazing. That it should occur in the midst of such financial turmoil in our economy, and with two wars being fought, is a testimonial to the viability and vibrancy of America.
I can’t help but marvel at the dichotomy of media coverage from four years ago and this year’s coverage. As preparations were being finalized for George W. Bush’s 2nd inauguration, we were not in the midst of a recession. The economy was clicking along especially coming off the heels of the dot-com bubble, the attacks of 9/11, and the collapse of Enron and Worldcom. We were involved in a global war with two very active fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In that context, President Bush was universally castigated by the media for staging an inauguration that was to cost more than any other. The sentiment was captured by Will Lester, an Associated Press writer, who pointed out that President Bush’s second inauguration will cost $40 million alone in private donations for the balls, parade and other invitation-only parties. He queried, “With that kind of money, what could you buy? 200 armored Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq. Vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami. A down payment on the nation’s deficit, which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year....”
The charge of elitism and inappropriate ostentation spilled over to the politicians, as well. New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, suggested inaugural parties should be scaled back, citing as a precedent Roosevelt's inauguration during World War II. He declared, “President Roosevelt held his 1945 inaugural at the White House, making a short speech and serving guests cold chicken salad and plain pound cake,” according to a letter from Weiner and Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington state. They continued, “During World War I, President Wilson did not have any parties at his 1917 inaugural, saying that such festivities would be undignified.”
Now we fast forward to Inauguration Day 2009. The nation is still at war against radical Islamic terrorism with major operations being conducted on two fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. But unlike four years ago, the economy is contracting into a recession, and with the proposed governmental actions by the new administration which sound increasingly like the proposals of Herbert Hoover and the first two moribund terms of FDR, we may be on the verge of a depression.
As dire as things are, a logical person might well think that the new administration would be sensitive to the plight of the nation, respectful of our service men and women, and avoid the excesses of the Bush administration in the 2004 inauguration. Alas, there is no such logic to be found. The UK Times and Newsmax report total costs for the 2009 inauguration to be approaching $160 million. That’s nearly four times the cost of just four years ago. Bush was criticized in large part because his $40 million inaugural price tag was $9 million more than Clinton’s second inauguration. So what are we to think of a price tag four times larger?
Granted not all of this $160 million is coming from public funds, with about 1/4th of it coming from private donations, corporate and individual. But does that make it any less inappropriate for such excess and lavishness in such challenging times? And what strings are attached to such contributions? How many of the contributors are about to sidle up to the public trough to request TARP funds or a government bailout in the next year?
There is only praise, adulation, and outright veneration for the massive and ostentatious Inaugural plans from the media. No rhetorical questions of how that much money could or should be spent, no criticism for the impropriety of such excess in troubling times, and no charges of being “out of touch” with the plight of working men and women in the country. And there are no denunciations of impropriety by celebrities as there was four years ago.
Just as we see the media condoning improprieties of Obama appointees, and moving swiftly to excuse them away, the media are essentially singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” for the next president. They failed their due diligence in vetting candidate Obama, and they will, due to their biases, likely fail in their due diligence in their coverage of President Obama as well.
The excesses and costs of this inauguration and the media adulation of the president elect make this seem more of a coronation than an inauguration. Is this “coronation” typical of what we can expect for the next four years? Are we to become accustomed to the most expensive, the most excessive, and the most grandiose of everything? Or is this an anomaly, and will we return to a modicum of modesty, prudence, and parsimony?
Whether a matter of extreme narcissism or just detachment from reality, the extravagance of this inauguration forebodes a stupendous willingness to spend other people’s money for what appear to be self-aggrandizing reasons. I was concerned before about the propensity for profligate spending; now I’m downright scared.