By BILL FERGUSON
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
Historically, U.S. presidents have favored low-key inaugurations during times of war and calamity. As World War II wound down in 1945, for example, Franklin Roosevelt celebrated his re-election with a modest luncheon and a short speech.
How quaint that seems compared to the extravagant program of balls, candlelight dinners, receptions, concerts and fireworks displays scheduled over three days this week to celebrate the re-election of our most recent "wartime president." As thousands of our troops battle terrorists in the Middle East and the world continues to reel from one of the worst natural disasters in modern history, President Bush is throwing himself a victory party that will make the crowned heads of Europe turn green with envy.
Hey, what better way to rub it in the noses of the 48 percent of voters who preferred the other guy than to party with the rich and famous for three straight days? Somebody call Robin Leach!
The price tag for this shindig is expected to come in north of the $40 million mark, and that bill is supposed to be paid using private donations.
But that's only part of the story. Someone has to protect the president and his high-rolling friends as they eat, drink and dance the night away. Responsibility for providing security during the inauguration falls to the city of Washington. Total cost for keeping inauguration partygoers safe and sound this week are estimated to run about $17.3 million. Of that, $5.4 million will be paid from a fund that is dedicated to the city because of its unique status as the nation's capital. The Bush administration is directing the city to pay for the remaining $11.9 million out of its Homeland Security budget.
That means that money the city had planned to spend on things like increasing hospital capacity and buying special protective equipment for firefighters will instead be spent to ensure that things go smoothly for the president's victory celebration.
None of this should come as a surprise. This president has successfully destroyed the concept (at least in his own mind) that war and sacrifice should go hand in hand. His attitude toward the inauguration is merely par for the course.
This is a man who thinks that enacting steep tax cuts and ratcheting up social spending while we're in the midst of prosecuting two expensive wars on foreign soil is sound fiscal policy. Just put it on our tab. Let the grandkids figure out how to pay for it.
Ladies and gentlemen, we've elected J.R. Ewing as our president. This is a man who was born into privilege and luxury and has never spent a sleepless night worrying about how he is going to make his house payment or get his kids through college.
He does not appreciate the fact that there are consequences for living beyond one's means, and he governs like there aren't any. Unfortunately for us, he's wrong. There are consequences, though they may be delayed, and his enthusiasm for deficit spending will eventually drive us off a cliff financially.
But it won't happen this week, so the party will go on, expenses be damned.
With ticket prices starting at $100,000, there won't be many of us regular folks hobnobbing at these black tie and tiara soirees, but here's hoping a good time is had by all.
Champagne wishes, Mr. President!
X Bill Ferguson is a columnist for the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.