Thu, Jan 20, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Bush opts for most lavish of inaugurations


British prime ministers have often been defenestrated but never inaugurated. After a nod from the Queen, a newly elected leader simply turns up in Downing Street as his predecessor scrambles out the back door.

Republican France handles matters more regally. Once confirmed by the constitutional court, a new president assumes office at a solemn Elysee Palace ceremony to which the voters are not invited.

Most countries favor some sort of special "do" to install a new leader. But things do not always go to plan.

Hamid Karzai's inauguration as Afghan president last month was all but eclipsed by the presence of two grim-faced warlords, US Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld. Mahmoud Abbas was inaugurated last Saturday as Palestinian president, even though he does not yet have a state to preside over. The accompanying gunfire was not part of the celebrations.

US President George W. Bush's inauguration today is an altogether different matter -- a thoroughly imperial event, scripted down to the last detail.

Ignoring the fact that Bush is president already, Republicans are planning a US$40 million celebration they say will be bipartisan. In truth it resembles an election victory party. To deflect criticism, the four-day extravaganza has been dedicated to US soldiers abroad and entitled "Celebrating Freedom and Honoring Service."

Democratic party poopers have complained that the largely corporate-funded shenanigans are excessive and tasteless. But moderation is a casualty of the modern age.

James Madison, inaugurated in 1809, only had one ball. Bush has nine balls, plus three gala dinners and several concerts. The Black Tie & Boots Ball, organized by Texans, is the most sought after, with US$125 tickets touted at US$1,000 each.

George Washington was rowed across the harbor to his inauguration in New York in 1789.

"My station is new; and, if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground," he said later.

When his turn came, Thomas Jefferson rode into town from Virginia and hitched his horse outside the White House. Theodore Roosevelt, a born showman, invited the Apache chief, Geronimo, to his 1905 bash.

Jimmy Carter, whose 1977 inauguration was a snip at US$3.5 million, also tried the common touch. He abandoned his limousine and walked up Pennsylvania Avenue. His message was that he was just an ordinary guy. Four years later, voters agreed and replaced him with an ex-film star. Ronald Reagan's first presidential knees-up cost US$19 million.

Inauguration inflation, financial and conceptual, has since proved unstoppable. Given Bush's claim to be a wartime president encircled by evil doers, his planned walkabout may be a brief affair. He will ride in the latest Cadillac -- useful advertising for corporate sponsor General Motors.

Security precautions are almost febrile. They include anti- aircraft guns, Iraq army surplus weapons of mass destruction detection equipment, "canine bomb sniffing units" and about 9,000 soldiers, police, and secret service agents -- Bush's praetorian guard.

A global television audience will watch Bush's reinstallation as the world's most powerful man -- a process recalling the circuses and triumphal processions up the original Capitol Hill of Rome's all-conquering emperors. Imperial parallels are inescapable. For Bush will preside over the world's only superpower, an empire in all but name whose military bases girdle the globe.

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