Last week’s presidential inauguration was a circus. About 11,000 people participated in the inaugural parade. Several luncheons and dinner parties were held throughout the week and nine inaugural balls were held on Thursday night alone. The cost of “celebrating freedom and honoring service,” the theme of the inauguration, was $40 million.
Even though inauguration funding is provided entirely by private donations, not taxpayers’ dollars, the millions of dollars were spent on things such as crystal bows from Tiffany’s, a complementary gift given to each guest at Wednesday’s Celebration Of Freedom and an outdoor concert featuring fireworks and performances by Ruben Studdard. The cost of the inaugural festivities is astounding, especially considering events consuming America’s resources at home and abroad.
The war in Iraq has been going on for almost two years. Deployed troops need as much support as the veterans who wined and dined at the Commander-In-Chief Ball on Thursday. At the least, part of the inaugural budget should have been spent on food and supplies for the troops.
There is also concern regarding our country’s budget deficit, which was $412.6 billion for the 2004 fiscal year. While government expenses are necessary, that amount is as enormous as were the inauguration funds. Spending the funds on the budget deficit would have brought the amount down slightly, which would have demonstrated some progress for the nation, unlike an excessive inauguration.
Internationally, news about last month’s earthquake in the Indian Ocean, which slightly shifted the Earth’s rotation and caused a tsunami that resulted to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Southeast Asia, has dominated American media for weeks. Surely, countries suffering severe economic damages need more financial support than a presidential inaugural committee consisting of wealthy businessmen.
Since this is the first presidential inauguration since Sept. 11, 2001, a significant amount of the inaugural funds went toward security, much of which was extreme and unnecessary.
Over 6,000 police and military officials were employed to secure the event, with thousands of medics on call in case of radioactive, biological or chemical warfare. U.S. air marshals sat on every flight coming and going from Washington D.C.
Armed members of the Coast Guard guarded the Potomac River. Vehicles were banned for over 100 city blocks in case of a vehicle bomb. Special agents dispersed into the crowd of parade watchers carrying “hand-held detection devices designed to pick up any sign of unconventional weapons,” according to The New York Times, keeping in mind that several areas of the parade were invitation only and the tickets required a fee paid for in advance.
Snipers lined the rooftops of buildings along the parade route, although the Federal Protective Service calls them “observers with tactical capability.” Access to the president’s entourage was limited to those who were fingerprinted and given a criminal background check.
Security is necessary at presidential inaugurations, but these actions were extreme for a “heightened but not imminent threat” in the words of outgoing Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge. Requiring U.S. air marshals to be on every single flight to every single small town and large city in the country and throughout the world just because the plane happens to arrive or depart from Washington D.C. is more than heightened security. It’s preparing for a regional catastrophe and it’s a tragic waste of money.
The 1989 inauguration of George H. W. Bush was the previous most expensive ceremony. This year, George W. Bush followed tradition with expensive splurges for his friends and supporters. The cost of celebrating freedom and honoring service was ironic considering how few people were actually celebrated and honored.
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