Jan 17, 2009

Little Criticism of $160 Price Tag for Obama Inauguration [LINK]

Upon learning the upcoming Obama Inauguration will cost approximately $160 million, roughly quadrupling the overall cost of Bush's 2005 Inauguration, it's a useful exercise to revisit some of the commentary criticizing that previous event.

Here's James Dao in the New York Times, January 23, 2005, in an article provocatively titled "Don't They Know There's a War On"?

Enjoy the party!" a protestor shouted in cheerful greeting to Republicans arriving at a pre-inaugural party here. "People are dying in Iraq. Enjoy the champagne!"

To many Democrats, images of Republicans in sequined gowns and designer tuxedos nibbling roast quail and twirling the Texas two-step in last week's $40 million-plus inaugural extravaganza seemed inappropriate, unseemly, even unpatriotic, when American soldiers are dying in Iraq.

"Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted — if not cancelled — in wartime," Representative Anthony Weiner, a Democrat from New York, chided in a letter to President Bush. Citing Franklin D. Roosevelt's austere fourth inaugural in 1945, Mr. Weiner suggested that the money would have been better spent on armored Humvees and pay bonuses for the troops.

In a nationwide Gallup Poll released last week, 54 percent of respondents said the inauguration should have been toned down because the country was at war....

Note that the only sign of Gallup asking people about Obama’s inauguration centers around whether it’ll be the most significant inaugural in American history, or simply one of the most significant.

Anne E. Kornblut in the New York Times, January 15, 2005:

With less than a week to go until her husband's second inauguration, Laura Bush on Friday defended the decision to hold the $40 million celebration as planned despite a war abroad and the tsunami disaster in the Indian Ocean.

Inaugurations, Mrs. Bush said, are "an important part of our history."

"They're a ceremony of our history; they're a ritual of our government," she said in a round-table interview with reporters in the White House map room. "And I think it's really important to have the inauguration every time. I think it's also good for Washington's economy, for people to come in from around the country, for the hotels to be full, and the restaurants to be full, and the caterers to be busy. I think that's important."

The BBC News, January 20, 2005:
With an estimated price tag of $40m, the three-day celebration that is President Bush’s second inauguration will be the most expensive ever….

Some have criticised the expense, questioning the propriety of a flashy celebration as US troops are dying in Iraq and South Asia still recovers from last month’s deadly tsunami.

The overt criticism of an inauguration is unusual, but a Washington Post poll found that a majority of Americans would prefer a smaller, more subdued event.

The Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2005:
The coronation — excuse me, inauguration — of George Bush reminded me of the “let them eat cake” days of the French monarchy. Forget mounting casualties in Iraq, tsunami victims and thousands facing starvation in Africa, let’s party! After all, it cost only $40 million; that’s less that a buck apiece for American families living below the poverty line or without health insurance.

While I suppose some sort of ceremony is in order for the beginning of Bush’s second term, it seems unconscionable that such a celebratory mood exists in Washington today. Young kids in their 20s continue to die daily in Iraq, tsunami victims try to reassemble their lives, heavy storm victims in California do the same and dysfunction throughout the world seems at an all-time extreme.

Here's another reference to "let them eat cake," this one from an open letter to President Bush from CBS’s Lloyd Garver, January 12, 2005:
Like millions of Americans, I was moved by your appeal to open my heart and wallet at this time and think about the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Now I’m appealing to you to hold a more modest inauguration celebration so that money can be used for a more appropriate cause.

Currently, the celebration is estimated at a cost of between $40 and $50 million. It’s scheduled to go on for four days, and will include nine official balls, countless “unofficial parties,” and a parade. I know the dollar isn’t worth what it once was, and the price of those little hot dogs keeps going up, but a four-day, $50-million party? Considering what’s going on in the world, these plans make Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake” attitude seem like the height of sensitivity….

And that’s all I’m asking. I’m not suggesting that you cancel it. Celebrate. Have a party. Have a big party. Get all dressed up and dance at the elegant ball. Have some ribs at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball. But don’t have a four-day “coronation” that says to the world, “champagne and caviar are more important to us than human lives.” Cut back on the party and ask those guys to give their big money to something that’s really important — just as you asked all Americans.

Charity balls instead of self-indulgent balls seem like a pretty good idea at this time. Think of what could be done with that $50 million if you convinced those sponsors to spend their money on more meaningful things than paté and limos. How many parentless victims of the tsunami could be saved with that money? How much body armor could be provided for our soldiers with that money? How many soldiers’ families who are having a tough time financially could be helped?

Here's the USA Today, January 14, 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?
  • Two hundred 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….
But a recent confluence of events —the tsunami natural disaster, Bush’s warning about Social Security finances and the $5 billion-a-month price tag for the war in Iraq — have many Americans now wondering why spend the money the second time around….

Billionaire Mark Cuban, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, voted for Bush — twice. Cuban knows a thing or two about big spending, once starring in ABC’s reality TV show, “The Benefactor,” in which 16 contenders tried to pass his test for success and win $1 million.

Cuban questioned spending all that money on the inaugural.

“As a country, we face huge deficits. We face a declining economy. We have service people dying. We face responsibilities to help those suffering from the … devastation of the tsunamis,” he wrote on his blog, a Web journal.

Here, by the way, is what Mr. Cuban has to say about the 2009 inaugural on his blog, a Web Journal, thoughts he posted in the wake of the terrorist attack on Mumbai:
Four years ago I suggested that the Bush administration cancel the inauguration parties and instead ask corporations to donate that money to the victims of the Tsunami.

Its fair to ask where I stand on the coming inauguration and whether parties should be canceled and money sent to the victims of the tragedy in India.

When the tsunami hit, it was a devastaion of epic proportions. Raising money for the survivors and rebuilding was a responsibility we as a nation accepted. We had telethons, events and fund raisers to try to help. The unfortunate situation in India, at least as it stands today, is not one that can be helped by contributions to the survivors. Thoughts and prayers, yes. Potentially support for anti terrorism programs, yes. But re-routing funds from anything to India, as least as far as I am aware, won’t help survivors or hostages at this time.

Point taken. Still, for an analogous well of bottomless need, may I suggest offering relief to mortgage holders facing foreclosure?
UPDATE: Some of my comments in response to the idea that the first quote was out of context, plus some musings on grammar.


Bob said...

Speaking of Inauguration Day, do you remember in May 2008 when Barack Obama said he had campaigned in 57 states? I did some research and found out the names of those other states. Yesterday, as a follow up to the U.S. Mint's 50 State Quarters® program, I introduced Barack Obama's Seven Mystery States Coin Collection Revealed in Time for Inauguration Day. It includes great cartoon drawings of seven coins representing those extra seven states: State of Shock, State of Disbelief, State of Discontent, State of Israel, State of Confusion, State of Denial and State of Euphoria. Check them out and enjoy a good laugh!

Dana said...

Yeoman's work, Sierra!