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Media Doesn’t Mind Obama Inauguration Cost Like It Did for Bush

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Remember back in 2005 when the media had a field day about how much money was being spent on President George Bush’s inauguration? The tab had reached $40 million in a time when there were two war fronts, an uncertain economic future at home, and other bad foreign news, namely a tsunami in Asia. What kind of image would that present if one political party was having a festival while soldiers were fighting and dying thousands of miles away and families were struggling at home to make ends meet?

According to Rich Noyes of, AP’s Will Lester wrote in January 2005:

President Bush’s second inauguration will cost tens of millions of dollars — $40 million alone in private donations for the balls, parade and other invitation-only parties. 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 questions have come from Bush supporters and opponents: Do we need to spend this money on what seems so extravagant?

New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, a Democrat, suggested inaugural parties should be scaled back, citing as a precedent Roosevelt’s inauguration during World War II.

“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, D-Wash. “During World War I, President Wilson did not have any parties at his 1917 inaugural, saying that such festivities would be undignified.”…

Benard Reis of the Washington Post wrote that this was the wrong time for a lavish celebration, in 2005 of course:

What gives me pause is the decision to spend some $40 million-plus at this moment in history. When I first began mulling over this expenditure, I thought it quite unseemly that, at a time when so many Americans and countless Iraqis have been and will be killed and maimed, we should be mounting a spectacle said to celebrate our troops, replete with nine official balls, many unofficial affairs, a youth concert, a parade, a fireworks display, etc. (and, at the Ritz-Carlton, white chocolate cowboy boots). But now, with the appalling misery in Southeast Asia added to the scene, it seems even more obvious that an extravaganza is wholly inappropriate.

… We should substantially curtail the inaugural program. By doing so, we would demonstrate due regard for the needs and sensibilities of our citizens and our world (and put to better use the money to be saved — District police security costs alone are estimated at $15 million). It isn’t too late to act. In 1985 the weather led President Reagan to cancel his parade on the day before the inauguration, thereby disappointing 200 high school bands and equestrian troupes from 50 states. The kids survived.

This is no time for Sousa and fireworks and red-white-and-blue cocktails. Some future inaugural, perhaps.

Four years later, the media’s take on Barack Obama’s inauguration is much different. Still faced with our soldiers fighting and dying in two wars, an uncertain economic future, and a bad ongoing foreign news story in the Mideast, the estimated $50 million price tag hasn’t seemed to bother anybody in the press.

Here’s Avis Thomas-Lester in The Washington Post in a story that was headlined “Can’t Put a Price on History” last month:

Colleen Evans, spokeswoman for the Ritz-Carlton hotels in Washington, said: “Americans are an optimistic group, and I think everybody is just tired of the negative news and all the complaints. This is a time when they can put aside the pessimism and just celebrate being an American.”

The combination of established revelers and novices is expected to result in a boon for the local economy, said Victoria Isley of Destination DC, the District’s convention and tourism arm.

At the Claire Dratch shop in Bethesda, ball gowns with prices of as much as $4,000 are being snapped up. It has dressed Jacqueline Kennedy, opera diva Denyce Graves and members of Congress as well as teachers, nurses and saleswomen.

Lori Ross, 45, a speech pathologist who lives in Bethesda, put down plastic for a $2,000 purple sheath for a ball she and her husband will attend, their first. “I’m so excited!” she said Friday, minutes after trying on the dress. “The minute I saw it, I knew it was perfect! I wanted something I could wear again. That’s especially important now in this current economic situation.”

Michael Lyles, 46, a lawyer who lives in Bowie, said that he and his wife, Deneen, have cut back on eating out, vacations and Christmas presents but that they are likely to spend $3,000 for inaugural events, including a $1,300 table for friends and family at the Omegas for Obama Ball, a fraternity event where his band is playing; two tickets for another ball; and two dresses for Deneen.

AP’s Lisa Tolin reported last month:

While Obama must be sensitive to the nation’s time of war and recession, there’s still reason to expect a rollicking time.

“We’re mindful of the fact that people in this country are hurting, that they’re going through hard times,” said Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “On the other hand, we see this not just as a celebration of an election, but as a time for people to come together and celebrate their common values and shared aspirations and goals.”

The committee has disclosed few details of the celebration, but it surely won’t come cheap. President George W. Bush raised $42 million to help finance his second inauguration. Millions more were spent by the government on security.

Though costly, an inauguration helps set the tone for a presidency, said Gil Troy, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The president shouldn’t be seen noshing on caviar, but neither should he dispense with glamour entirely, Troy said. Americans want their leader to be a man of the people and a celebrity superstar, both.

“Americans are people who love to indulge, and deep in our hearts want our leaders to be like the king and queen of England – but not too much,” he said.

And a couple days ago, Laurie Kellman of AP had this spin on Obama’s celebration in a story that was headlined “For inaugural balls, go for glitz, forget economy”:

So you’re attending an inaugural ball saluting the historic election of Barack Obama in the worst economic climate in three generations. Can you get away with glitzing it up and still be appropriate, not to mention comfortable and financially viable?

To quote the man of the hour: Yes, you can. Veteran ballgoers say you should. And fashionistas insist that you must.

“This is a time to celebrate. This is a great moment. Do not dress down. Do not wear the Washington uniform,” said Tim Gunn, a native Washingtonian and Chief Creative Officer at Liz Claiborne, Inc.

“Just because the economy is in a downturn, it doesn’t mean that style is going to be in a downturn,” agreed Ken Downing, fashion director for Neiman Marcus.

And if anyone does raise an eyebrow at those sequins, remind them that optimism is good for times like these. “Just say you’re doing it to help the economy,” chuckled good manners guru Letitia Baldridge.


Written by newscycle

January 15, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Inauguration, Obama

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