Walking the freezing streets of Washington, D.C., at 5 a.m. on the morning of the inauguration, you could already feel the excitement. In a sense, it's understandable that so many in the press went overboard in their coverage Tuesday: History was made before our eyes. I didn't mind it, really. But what is offensive was the constant refrain that "America comes together" during inaugurations. This is a line applied to Democrats. Republicans are not awarded that courtesy by the press.
The most obvious contrast comes from the Associated Press. On Jan. 12, 2001, the AP headline was "Texans' inaugural ball will be definitive Texas excess." Reporter Suzanne Gamboa asserted: "It would be redundant to say this party put on by Texans is big, but is it big enough to meet the definition of Texas excess? You bet." The AP noted $1.75 million in corporate sponsorships, and trotted out the usual "watchdog groups" to lament the lobbyist access through excess.
On Jan. 13, 2005, AP's Will Lester disparaged the "lavish" Bush inauguration, creatively listing how much could be purchased with the millions wasted on the ceremonies: 200 armored Humvees with the best armor for troops in Iraq, vaccinations and preventive health care for 22 million children in regions devastated by the tsunami, even a down payment on the nation's deficit, "which hit a record-breaking $412 billion last year."
Lester added that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (the man who would soon hire disgraced Dan Rather for his HDNet channel) insisted President Bush should cancel all his parties and festivities to set an example. Democratic congressmen Anthony Weiner and Jim McDermott were highlighted for urging Bush in a letter that he imitate FDR's 1945 inaugural, where he served guests "cold chicken salad and plain pound cake."
But on Jan. 13, 2009, with deficit estimates passing over the trillion-dollar mark, the AP urged that "excess" was mandatory for an inauguration they finally felt was worth celebrating. They wrote of no attempts to ask liberal Democrats if they would now urge Obama to stick to cold chicken salad and pound cake.
AP's Laurie Kellman was aware that the economy was in crisis, but breezily suggested "glitzing it up" was a must. "So you're attending an inaugural ball saluting the historic election of Barack Obama in the worst economic climate in three generations. Can you get away with glitzing it up and still be appropriate, not to mention comfortable and financially viable? To quote the man of the hour: Yes, you can. Veteran ballgoers say you should. And fashionistas insist that you must."