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Whither the Hand-Wringing About Obama's Pomp?

4:00 PM, Jan 13, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Remember in 2004 when the press and liberals, but I repeat myself, lectured the nation about how President George W. Bush's second Inaugural was too glitzy, too high-dollar, and altogether too festive to befit a country at war?

Today, we're still at war, but with that going rather well, the dismal economic condition is the nation's central issue as Obama's mondo-inauguration approaches. And yet, there is no high-minded tsking of the millions who are traveling to Washington, spending thousands on inaugural dresses, and generally living it up for a week during this time of historic economic trouble. This point has been made before, but an AP headline today necessitates pointing out the contrast once again:

For inaugural balls, go for glitz, forget economy

A far cry from the 2004 headlines, which went a little something like this: "For Herr Bush's heartless wartime hoot-'n'-nanny, gather the rent garments of the violated Lady Liberty, dip them in the spilled blood of soldiers and civilians, and dance the night away as Toby Keith signals the burning of America's promise on his hillbilly fiddle."

Back then, the AP offered, "Protesters Counter Glitter with Soup Lines, Signs," "Some question propriety of high inaugural costs," and described the festivities as resembling "nothing so much as a coronation."

In 2004, there was much invocation of the "war-weary Franklin D. Roosevelt's" spartan 1945 inauguration, which took place in front of a small crowd at the White House. One would think FDR's behavior at his 1933 and 1937 inaugurations might similarly provide a model to Barack Obama for inaugural behavior during an economic downturn.

In 1933, Roosevelt wanted a low-key celebration, but his Party nonetheless indulged in parades and parties. FDR declined to attend most of the galas, sending Eleanor and others in his stead while he got to work. In 1937, he dictated the tone of the celebration, opting for very little fanfare.

Despite the press' tendency to find historical parallels between today's downturn and the Great Depression, however, there is no invocation of Roosevelt's tame inaugurals as guidance for Obama.

But hey, if FDR were here today, poised to pass another New Deal, he'd undoubtedly applaud the hawking of presidential memorabilia on special QVC inaugural programming, the dignified distribution of Obama lava lamps and bobbleheads, and the somber, thoughtful guzzling of La Obama soda.