When words fail us


Geraldine Sealey
January 20, 2005 4:48AM (UTC)

Inaugurations, even more than political conventions, are the kind of predictable, anti-climactic events where in between Gatlin Brothers' performances and fireworks displays, the speeches start to sound like they're coming from that teacher on Peanuts: "Waa-wa-waa, wa, wa-wa-wa-waa." It's possible -- not probable, of course -- that Bush could shock and dazzle us tomorrow, and make inaugural oratory history with some line of the caliber of "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," or "Ask not what your country can do for you." (We realize that this is not likely.) But so far, things are going according to plan: Other than the somewhat cold and snowy weather, which has despite its relative mildness predictably paralyzed the nation's capital, there ain't much to write home about. Perhaps that's why, in CNN's wall-to-wall coverage leading up to the inaugural events, the desperate anchors talked more about the weather than anything else: Judy Woodruff discussed how bad the traffic was coming in from Maryland -- it just crawled -- and in a separate news bulletin, Wolf Blitzer described the disappointment the Rockettes felt when a gala event at the Ellipse was delayed because people were too cold to show up.

So let's not just depend on words alone to describe what's happening in Washington today and Thursday. Some of the most dramatic, and telling, descriptions of the inaugural are expressed in numbers, anyway. According to an L.A. Times poll, a full three quarters of the American people think the lavish inaugural festivities should have been toned down, what with the Iraq war and tsunami relief efforts ongoing. But that hasn't deterred the Republicans -- or the lobbyists and industry folk here -- from partying it up as they prepare to help shape Bush's second-term agenda. The Progress Report has compiled a great list of inaugural factoids in a kind of Harper's Index-ripoff format. Here's a sampling of inaugural costs and how some of the money could have been better spent, courtesy of the Center for American Progress:

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  • $40 million: Cost of Bush inaugural ball festivities, not counting security costs.
  • $20,000: Cost of yellow roses purchased for inaugural festivities by D.C.'s Ritz Carlton.
  • 200: Number of Humvees outfitted with top-of-the-line armor for troops in Iraq that could have been purchased with the amount of money blown on the inauguration.
  • $10,000: Price of an inaugural package at the Fairmont Hotel, which includes a Beluga caviar and Dom Perignon reception, a chauffeured Rolls Royce and two actors posing as "faux" Secret Service agents, complete with black sunglasses and cufflink walkie-talkies.
  • 22 million: Number of children in regions devastated by the tsunami who could have received vaccinations and preventive health care with the amount of money spent on the inauguration.
  • 1,160,000: Number of girls who could be sent to school for a year in Afghanistan with the amount of money lavished on the inauguration.
  • $15,000: The down payment to rent a fur coat paid by one gala attendee who didn't want the hassle of schlepping her own through the airport.
  • 2,500: Number of U.S. troops used to stand guard as President Bush takes his oath of office.
  • 26,000: Number of Kevlar vests for U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be purchased for $40 million.

  • Geraldine Sealey

    Geraldine Sealey is senior news editor at Salon.com.

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