Second inaugurals have a proud place in American history. Though many have been memorable, the most famous is Abraham Lincoln’s, in which he eloquently asked the nation to unite and rebuild after a devastating civil war. Though it is unlikely that President Bush is capable of delivering a speech worthy of Lincoln at his second inaugural, the nation and the world are no less in need of greatness from the Office of the President.
Instead, in a nation torn by war and a world devastated by disaster, today Bush will hold the most expensive and extravagant inaugural in history, at a cost of $40 million. This is yet another missed opportunity on the part of the Bush administration to demonstrate its compassion and willingness to sacrifice in a time of war and extreme suffering.
Bush, like Lincoln, had an opportunity to make a profound statement to a nation and to the world at his second inaugural by sacrificing the traditional pomp and festivities in favor of a more modest ceremony. Instead, the only statement he is likely to make is one of monetary excess. Though most of the money was raised from private sources, Washington Mayor Anthony Williams has estimated that it will cost the District in excess of $17.3 million to pay for the extra security needed for the event. Indeed, security concerns have put the capital city on lockdown this week, with local and federal police, combat aircraft and surface-to-air missile batteries keeping watch over the inaugural activities.
In coming to the defense of the event, First Lady Laura Bush said, “I think there’s a symbolic aspect of the inauguration that — and because of that, the symbol of the inauguration, you never want to — for any reason — cancel it or not have it.” Indeed, there will be a symbolic effect of this inauguration — that of continued indifference on the part of the Bush administration to the plight facing the nation it leads and the world community of which it is a part. After initially coming up embarrassingly short in its offer of relief aid to Southeast Asia, South Asia and Africa after the tsunami disaster last month, Bush could have done a great deal to reach out to these nations by holding a more modest celebration out of respect for the victims. Furthermore, having thrust the nation into a war that continues to kill and maim American soldiers and Iraqi innocents, a demonstration of wartime sacrifice on the part of the Bush administration would have been a welcome break from its business-as-usual attitude thus far. Today’s multi-million dollar party will fail in both regards.
In his second inaugural address, Lincoln famously said, “Let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Despite an opportunity to savage a beaten enemy, Lincoln chose a path of reconciliation and charity. Today, unfortunately, the current commander in chief, faced with another great opportunity to mend an increasingly divided nation and world, will instead throw himself a giant party.