The Ginned-Up Inaugural Bash Controversy

The question on the lips of so many frustrated Democrats at the beginning of this year is why, with continuing violence in Iraq and the devastation caused by the Asian tsunami, Republicans are even contemplating holding an expensive round of parties surrounding George W. Bush’s second inauguration? It’s tawdry, unseemly, and gauche, journalists cluck, that the GOP fat cats will dance at fancy balls and eat caviar while so many people are homeless in Indonesia.

The implication is that had John Kerry bested Bush last November he’d have canceled all revelry, made a dignified address to the nation on Jan. 20, and perhaps invited a dozen or so friends and advisers for cupcakes and coffee.

Obviously, this ginned-up controversy is pure politics, but what stumps me is why the media and Bush’s adversaries are playing the game with such a lack of finesse. I don’t care one way or the other about the galas that accompany most inaugurals, but as all politicians know, the quadrennial hoopla is the closing chapter of a presidential campaign. It’s a way of rewarding thousands of donors, both corporate and individual, people who organized get-out -the-vote efforts in key states, longtime friends, and a lot of permanent Beltway residents of both parties.

Bernard Ries, a retired lawyer, wrote in the Jan. 9 Washington Post:

In his Christmas Day radio address, Bush admonished Americans: “We have a duty to our fellow citizens, that we are called to love our neighbor just as we would like to be loved ourselves.” That sentiment would have been notably served if, on the day after the election, he had announced that his inauguration would be confined to one modest day of celebration and he had urged prospective supporters to redirect their contributions toward charities and the needs of our troops and their families… . And, in thus displaying modest charitableness instead of what many have perceived as ungenerous arrogance, he might have made a good start on mending the rupture between himself and half the country (and much of the planet).

Translation: We Kerry voters are still bitter about the election results and we’ll try any method possible to smear Bush.

It’s a dumb tactic. Not as dumb, mind you, as Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer’s grandstanding in Congress last week, joining a number of House members in protesting the results of Ohio’s election, necessitating a vote on the legitimacy of that state’s Bush electors. Two hours were wasted on debate in each chamber on the fake issue—time that could’ve been used to determine how much money each member of Congress was donating to the flood victims, if you want to be snarky about it—which resulted in Boxer alone, among the senators, saying “aye” to the protest. As if to punctuate her reputation—at least among most conservatives—as a ditzy senator who appropriately represents California, Boxer said that Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, which chastised Democratic senators for not protesting Bush’s first election, made her feel guilty about not contesting the Florida electors four years ago.

Roving pundit Margaret Carlson wrote in the Jan. 6 Los Angeles Times that canceling the inaugural festivities would signal a rare sense of humility on the part of Bush. She said, “What’s surprising is the down-to-earth president doesn’t get that the world has changed since his extravaganza in 2001. The master of identifying with the common man has blown such an easy opportunity to reinforce the image he’s so ardently cultivated, an image that just won him reelection despite four years of policies undertaken on behalf of the uncommon man.”

They can’t help themselves. Rational people can debate whether Bush’s foreign policy is wise, whether his tax cuts have helped or hindered the economy, but only the most brainwashed can actually believe that he hasn’t been an activist president who has steadfastly dedicated himself to protecting this country’s citizens from another terrorist attack and helping the “common man” in countries where dictators once ruled.

David Frum, in his National Review Online diary of Jan. 4, provided a primer on recent gaudy inaugurals for those criticizing Bush today—specifically, the two Clinton affairs in ‘93 and ‘97, the first against a backdrop of “ethnic cleansing” in Bosnia, the second after the Rwandan massacres. He adds: “This marvelous country can afford it all, including the cops who make it possible for the protesters to protest and the voluntary donations so that the celebrators can celebrate—without in any way compromising its contributions to humanitarian relief or its national defense.”

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