Abe, Barack and the inauguration

by Jim Longworth

Barack Obama has never been one to shy away from theatrics. Remember his rally at Mile High Stadium, repleat with Roman columns? Now, as Inauguration Day approaches, the drama takes on an historical tone for many reasons.

Obama will ride the train from the land of Lincoln, then be sworn in using Abe’s very own bible. And why not? After all, Obama is America’s first black president, and Lincoln is the president who freed men and women of color out of servitude. But the symmetry doesn’t end there. Just as when Lincoln took office, Obama now faces dangerous times. On that Spring day in 1861, onlookers along Abe’s parade route complained that they couldn’t see the new president because his carriage was constantly surrounded by armed cavalrymen. Sharpshooters also adorned the tops of buildings, and security was tight all around in order to protect Lincoln from radical Southern racists. Likewise, next week security for Obama will be tight as the Feds prepare for racist lunatics and Islamic terrorists, all at the same time. In fact, security is so tight that Virginians are up in arms (no pun intended) because the government is planning to close all highways leading to DC on Inauguration Day. I guess terrorists only live in the South, because the roads will be open to and from Maryland. But security and symbolisms aside, Obama’s inauguration has taken on proportions the enormity of which Lincoln could have never imagined. In addition to the swearing-in ceremony and parade, there are 10 official balls and 94 unofficial balls scheduled for that night. In all, the festivities will cost over $40 million. Of course, campaign officials report that the money will be raised by private sources, but there are two problems with that. First of all, the companies and individuals who donate those funds could have instead designated the money to their local charities, or to agencies engaged in trying to train and relocate displaced workers. Second, the standard inaugural press releases fail to mention that Congress has allocated nearly $30 million of our tax dollars to cover the cost of controlling and cleaning up after the 2.5 million people who will crowd onto the Capitol grounds that day. In all, that’s $70 million being spent to swear in Mr. Obama. History-making or not, that kind of expenditure is obscene at a time when millions of people are out of work, and when the country is facing its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. The fact is, if Obama really wanted to channel Lincoln and show his commitment to austerity, he would have chosen to be sworn in on the steps of the Spingfield courthouse, surrounded by family and a few close friends. Such sensitivity isn’t without precedent. In 1977, the Watergate scandal was still fresh in our minds. The last thing we wanted to do was to glorify the presidency, and Jimmy Carter knew it. And so he downplayed and downsized his inauguration to a more respectful and less pompous level. This is just not the time for our next president to be lavishing in the trappings of his office. Those of us struggling to make ends meet were angered when IGA took our bailout money, then spent a bunch of it on spa weekends. In like manner, we might not feel so warm and fuzzy about a new president who throws a $70-million bash for himself. Truly, Obama’s inauguration will be a proud moment for our nation, and will go a long way toward healing the racial divides which still exist among us. But Lincoln healed a nation’s wounds after spending very little on his inauguration, so success doesn’t have to be preceded by excess. These are difficult times in which Congress and the president-elect are asking us to do with less. If only they would do the same.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).