Four years ago, the Associated Press and others in the press suggested it was in poor taste for Republicans to spend $40 million on President Bush’s inauguration. AP writer Will Lester calculated the impact that kind of money would have on armoring Humvees in Iraq, helping victims of the tsunami, or paying down the deficit. Lester thought the party should be cancelled: “The questions have come from Bush supporters and opponents: Do we need to spend this money on what seems so extravagant?”
Fast forward to 2009. The nation is still at war (two wars, in fact), and now also faces the prospect of a severe recession and federal budget deficits topping $1 trillion as far as the eye can see. With Barack Obama’s inauguration estimated to cost $45 million (not counting the millions more that government will have to pay for security), is the Associated Press once again tsk-tsking the high dollar cost?
Nope. “For inaugural balls, go for glitz, forget economy,” a Tuesday AP headline advised. The article by reporter Laurie Kellman argued for extravagance, starting with the lede:
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.
That spin is a far cry from four years ago, when the AP seemed interested in spurring resentment of the Bush inaugural’s supposedly high cost. Of course, displays of Republican wealth are routinely slammed by the media as elitist or aristocratic, while reporters seem to consider rich Democrats as stylish paragons whom we all should copy.
To get a real feel for the contrast, here’s an excerpt of Lester’s January 13, 2005 piece (as recounted in the MRC’s CyberAlert), starting with a lede designed to rain all over Bush’s parade and including the suggestion from two liberal Democrats that Bush eat cold chicken salad and pound cake instead:
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."...
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.
"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.
Cuban challenged Bush to set an example: "Start by canceling your inauguration parties and festivities."
Obviously, that’s not the media’s message to Barack Obama this year. And no one in the press is going to argue that, with the nation at war, the new President should be satisfied with cold chicken salad and pound cake.