Rear Window Ethics Rear Window Ethics: Bush's Inaugural Events Budget

Friday, January 14, 2005

Bush's Inaugural Events Budget

Rear Window Ethics

Remember the last chapter of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, in which Scrooge wakes up after a fitful night haunted by the three spirits of Christmas? You know, the "What's today? ... What's today, my fine fellow?" scene? The one where the boy replies " Today? Why, Christmas Day." And all of a sudden Scrooge orders the largest turkey he can find to be sent to Bob Cratchit's house, and continues on spreading goodwill to those in need through the end of the story.

Wouldn't it be an amazing legacy for President Bush if he were to scale down his inaugural events to the necessities, and then used the funds budgeted and donated for it to provide aid for those in need? He wouldn't even need to tell anyone. He would take all the contributions for the festivities and instead spend them on purchasing body armer for troops in combat, or on tsunami relief efforts, or even AIDS programs in Africa.

Nothing would impress his detractors and his enemies more than such an act of charity and generosity. If he were to have a meager celebration -- a short parade followed by a moving speech about the need to do what we can in such trying times -- it would go a long way to bring Americans together after a divisive term and a bitter year of campaigning. It would buy more "political capital" than his so-called mandate and Iraqi election "freedom is on the march" speeches combined.

By scaling down the inauguration he would not only alleviate some of the burden on the financially strapped city of D.C., but he would show Americans -- and indeed the world -- that a time of war and of global catastrophes is not a time for a gaudy party. By contributing the funds originally marked for the indulgent festivities he would both embody his own call for American charity as well as one-up Franklin Roosevelt's modest wartime inauguration of 1945 (though opinions differ on FDR's reasons for such a meager ceremony).

I don't expect any of this to happen. The inaugural festivities are to celebrate the people who contributed money for the campaign, despite the claim that this year's theme is to honor the men and women in our armed services. The likelihood of actually celebrating the troops by donating private funds to buy life-saving necessities for them is next to none. There would be a lot of pissed off donors in black cowboy boots and lavish designer dresses demanding answers.

Still, this fantasy of mine -- if acted upon -- would be quite a moment in history. A second Presidential term is about building a legacy, and it would be nearly impossible to start such an effort in a better manner than this.