Washington Post: The first presidential inauguration after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will have security precautions unlike any the nation has ever seen, especially for those who hope to witness the noon swearing-in and the parade on Jan. 20. The tight security cordon for President Bush may be considered a sign of the threatening times. But this year's inaugural restrictions are also a logical and unfortunate progression of the unrelenting tightening of security throughout the nation's capital since Sept. 11 -- a progression that has the downside of further estranging the government from the governed.
It was not always this way. Thomas Jefferson walked to and from his inaugural. Outgoing president Andrew Jackson and incoming chief executive Martin Van Buren rode together in a carriage to the Capitol for the inaugural. Franklin Pierce went to and from the Capitol standing up in his carriage. But that world changed in the first inauguration after John Kennedy's assassination: Lyndon Johnson rode to his swearing-in in a bulletproof limousine.
Compare and contrast
The inaugural contrasts then and now are stark in other terms as well. George Washington's March 4, 1793, inaugural address was just 135 words. Woodrow Wilson canceled his 1913 inaugural ball and, after his re-election, took the oath of office privately in the Capitol's President's Room. Jimmy Carter dispensed with the traditional inaugural luncheon at the Capitol. Expect none of those departures this time around.
The tightest security cordon in history means that vehicles will be barred for blocks surrounding Pennsylvania Avenue, where Bush's motorcade will travel. People attending the invitation-only swearing-in ceremony on the Capitol's west front, as well as guests at the 10 official inaugural balls, are to be screened in advance by the Secret Service. Presumably the 11,000 people, floats, vehicles and horses drafted for the parade will also be subjected to security checks. Bleacher seats along the parade route weren't going for $15, $60 and $125 during Dwight Eisenhower's two inaugural parades, but those are the going rates for the 55th presidential inauguration.
And there, perhaps, is the rub. The protection of the president of the United States remains a paramount concern. No one wants to see a lowering of security. But this year's inauguration seems to be spawning a ratcheting-up of activities -- ranging from street closures, to screening and separation of parade-goers, to invitation-only events -- that could have the effect of converting what has customarily been a national celebration into a post-Sept. 11 gala that discourages public participation and is welcoming to only the relatively privileged few.