Mon, Jan 10, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Republicans ready to `crown' Bush

INAUGURATION Republicans are planning an ostentatious celebration of the `red' team's election win that some critics have derided as `obscene' in a time of war

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

It will be one of the biggest parties in US history, but half of the country will be left out. With a price tag of up to US$50 million, US President George W Bush's inauguration in 10 days' time will be an unashamed celebration of Red America's victory over Blue America in last November's election.

It is going to be the most expensive, most security-obsessed event in the history of Washington DC. An army of 10,000 police, secret service officers and FBI agents will patrol the capital for four days of massive celebrations that some critics have derided as reminiscent of the lavish shindigs thrown by Louis XIV, France's extravagant Sun King.

More than 150,000 people, nearly all Republicans whose tickets are a reward for election work, will pack the Mall to hear Bush take his oath of office on Jan. 20. There will be nine official balls, countless unofficial ones, parades and a concert hosted by Bush's daughters, Jenna and Barbara.

Amid the official pageantry will be many huge parties laid on by companies wishing to win favor with Washington's power players.

Anyone who is anyone in Republican circles will be in town. Many Democrats will be leaving.

With so many big names in one place, security measures will include road blocks, anti-aircraft guns guarding the skies and sniper teams patrolling the rooftops.

Many observers say it is all too much.

"We have elected a president who seems to have quite a monarchical role. It is a bit of a coronation," said Larry Haas, a former official in Bill Clinton's White House.

Certainly, Bush's inauguration will be an orgy of gladhanding and partying by the Republican faithful from all over the country. One Washington hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, is offering visitors four nights in its Presidential Suite for US$200,000. The price tag includes a 24-hour butler, a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce or Humvee, daily champagne and caviar and a flight to the hotel in a private jet.

One highlight of the bonanza is the Black Tie and Boots Ball organized by Bush's home state of Texas, with the president as star guest. Ten thousand tickets sold out in less than 50 minutes, and are now trading privately at US$1,300 each. Another is the Commander-in-Chief's Ball where Bush will honor US soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is billed as the centerpiece of the inauguration, which itself has a theme tinged with the idea of military service.

All the partying is being condemned by many commentators as in poor taste for a nation fighting a bloody war.

Carroll Wilson, editor of the Texas newspaper the Times Record, has called the cost obscene and "a horrendous waste."

"There's something inherently embarrassing about spending US$50 million on a party that will start and end in the blink of a very red eye," he said.

The fighting in Iraq has provoked calls for the celebrations to be toned down, as they were during the two world wars when some were even cancelled. Bush's second inauguration will be the first in wartime since president Richard Nixon took office in 1969 during the Vietnam conflict.

Yet the partying is being intensified. The Commander-in-Chief's Ball is being hailed by organizers as a fitting tribute to US soldiers on active service. More than 2,000 troops and their partners, selected by the Pentagon, will take part. Most have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or are about to go there. The parades will have a stronger than normal military theme.

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