HackWatch: Inauguration Edition

Monday, January 19th, 2009

By some estimates, the price tag on President-Elect Obama’s three-day inauguration celebration may hit $170 million. That’s at least as much as President Bush’s inaugural festivities in 2005, though just how much more expensive depends on how you’re measuring public vs. private contributions, and how you’re factoring in the cost of security.

Leftist critics were livid at the cost and security presence at Bush’s swearing in 2005, juxtaposing the gilded balls and black limos next to the slumping economy and the festering wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But they’ve been conspicuously silent about Obamarama, even though the festivities are both pricier and draped with an even heavier security presence.

Here’s Eric Boehlert, writing at Salon in 2005:

This week’s inauguration story came ready with two interesting news angles: the huge cost (in contrast with the dire situation in Iraq) and the unprecedented security. And in both cases, the political press corps, as has been its habit under the Bush administration, showed little interest in prying. In the days and weeks leading up to the event, the press has largely treated inauguration criticism as partisan and silly, making sure to give Bush backers lots of time and room to defend the unmatched pomp and circumstance.


And it might have been helpful in the limited media debate that did take place about the inauguration’s costs to point out that if the $40 million to $50 million raised for the GOP’s parties had been donated to the war effort, as some have suggested, the money would have covered only about six hours of the U.S. military’s operations in Iraq.


Nonetheless, like butter on a humid summer day in Washington, reporters have simply melted away from asking pointed questions about the costly security overkill (nearly 9,000 police officers and military personnel will be deployed) — a buildup that clearly plays to Bush’s political advantage by keeping terrorist threats at the top of people’s minds.

This year’s inauguration will feature more than 25,000 security personnel. The city’s decked out in Hummers, APVs, snipers, and every bridge between D.C. and Virginia is closed (unless you’re in a limo—they’re permitted). We still have two wars going on. The economy’s more in the tank now than it was then. But this time around, Boehlert has no criticism for Obama, only for Obama’s critics, who Boehlert says are underestimating the cost of Bush’s inauguration in 2005.

In 2005, the Center for American Progress excoriated the Bush inauguration with a series of “Harper’s Index”-like statistics under the headline “Lifestyles of the Rich and Heartless.” This year? The only article I could find is a piece praising Obama for keeping his big party environmentally friendly.

Finally, the A.P. reports:

In 2005, Reps. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and Jim McDermott, D-Wash., asked Bush to show a little less pomp and be a little more circumspect at his party.

“President Roosevelt held his 1945 inaugural at the White House, making a short speech and serving guests cold chicken salad and plain pound cake,” the two lawmakers wrote in a letter. “During World War I, President Wilson did not have any parties at his 1917 inaugural, saying that such festivities would be undignified.”

Weiner actually went the extra step of asking President Bush to skip inauguration, and donate all of the money he raised to the troops, instead. Doesn’t look like he’s demanding the same gesture from Obama. McDermott doesn’t seem to have much criticism for Obama, either.

For his obvious attempt at misdirection, Boehlert gets an 8 out of 10 on the somewhat arbitrary Hackery Index. Because their hackery comes by way of omission, the Center for American Progress and Reps. Weiner and McDermot get a 6 out of 10.

If you see an example of a pundit, politician, major blogger, or other Beltway creature who’s done a 180 on this or another issue, please send it here, with links, and “HackWatch” in the subject line. Previous editions of HackWatch here.

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28 Responses to “HackWatch: Inauguration Edition”

  1. #1 |  Sam | 

    Ding away, but isn’t Boehlert objecting, at least in part, because the same Republicans whose heads are currently exploding over the total price could find no reason to object then? And isn’t he also observing that the current number we’re seeing included security, whereas the previous costs we were given by the mainstream medias never did?

    Agree with the rest.

  2. #2 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I think we need lots of huge extravagant celebrations to mark the ascension of the new royalty to the throne of most powerful political office on the planet to help overcome the humility common to those who have historically pursued that high position.

    Hahaha! I’m so full o’ shit I’m gonna float away.

  3. #3 |  Bernard | 

    The only mitigating factor on the security side is that the first black president is likely to need a bigger security detail than the average new president taking office. That’s not Obama’s fault and it is a small cost compared to the especial damage his assassination would cause to the social fabric.

    On the celebrations it looks silly and crass. I’d say it’s worse than Bush given that Bush never made much play of being a common man and the economy then was nothing like so bad as now. Both those combine to make it extravagant celebrations a serious early miscalculation.

  4. #4 |  Brandon Bowers | 

    I don’t see tomorrow as an apt comparison to 2005. This is Obama’s first inauguration, more akin to Bush-2001. Granted, that really just makes Bush’s ’05 excesses that much more contemptible. Obama’s apparent narcissism is contemptible in it’s own right, but I don’t like the argument that “Bush did it, too,” or the counter that “Bush didn’t spend quite as much.” The fact is, both of these assholes made the decision to spend millions of public dollars to glorify themselves while Americans are suffering at home and abroad. Not the most desirable trait in a “leader.” That said, for using the “well Bush did it too” defense, all three deserve their hackery scores.

  5. #5 |  PJ Doland | 

    In all fairness, there are A LOT more people coming to DC for this than for either of Bush’s inaugurations. I think the reasonable thing to do, for comparison in this case, is divide out the cost by the number of people coming to the DC metropolitan area.

    By that measure, Obama’s inauguration is probably much less expensive.

  6. #6 |  Zeb | 

    “Bush never made much play of being a common man”

    Which Bush are you talking about?

    The president should make no publicly funded public appearances not essential to carrying out his duties. Besides the expense, the security that is necessary these days puts a totally unreasonable burden on people just trying to go about their business.

  7. #7 |  Scott | 

    HopeChange comes with a price. Should universal healthcare ever get the nod we’ll all look back on the costs associated with Obama’s inauguration parties with some degree of fondness for such a “trivial” waste of taxpayer dollars.

  8. #8 |  jwh | 

    “Weiner actually went the extra step of asking President Bush to skip inauguration, and donate all of the money he raised to the troops, instead. Doesn’t look like he’s demanding the same gesture from Obama.”

    Are you kidding, Radley? Do you really expect a liberal to support the troops? Give me a break. With what has been promised, but largely not campaigned on, is the termination of Clinton’s “Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell” policy, and a reinstatement of the draft. Heck, why don’t they just shut down the Pentagon. All it does is torture people, right?!?

  9. #9 |  Sam | 


    You’re not serious, right? Liberals routinely support troops; our current conservative cadre supports wars, troops be damned.

  10. #10 |  Greg N. | 

    I’m confused. If Boehlert is right, he shouldn’t even be on the Index. If he’s wrong, how does he not warrant a 10?

  11. #11 |  Jason | 

    When Obama said he wanted to spread the wealth around, I thought he was talking about giving money to poor people. If I had known he was talking about using wealth to throw lavish parties, I might have voted for him.

  12. #12 |  Dave Krueger | 

    I think Presidents should just invite their owners to inaugurations. It would save a lot of money and would eliminate that false sense that they are “everybody’s President”.

    And no, that was not a remark about slavery.

  13. #13 |  Andrew Williams | 

    I can understand the extra security, because it would look pretty bad (/massive understatement) if Obama were to be assasinated on the day he takes office. The rest of the balloons, bunting and bullshit I can do without. Just say “Thanks” and get to work.

  14. #14 |  ickball | 

    I switched jobs a few years ago and only spent 150 million on the party.

  15. #15 |  anarch | 

    Unsafe At Any Price.

    Not Obama; the nation.

  16. #16 |  Matt D | 

    Radley, I would invite you to do the math PJ Doland suggests.

    A quick google shows around 300k people attending Bush’s 05 inauguration vs. estimates of 1-5 million for Obama’s.

    As for Boehlert–yes, he’s criticizing Obama’s critics. Because they’re wrong. And because they’re essentially lying. That he hasn’t criticized Obama doesn’t change that fact. Granted, I’m biased here, but I would say that having major media outlets mislead people about the costs of the respective inaugurations is more troubling than the sort of predictable partisan switchbacks of which you accuse Boehlert and co.

    I mean, I get the point you’re making, but c’mon. Obama is spending about the same as Bush did, even though Obama’s inauguration is expected to draw at least 3 times as many people as Bush’s and carries at least the same risk of a terrorist attack. Yet it’s being reported that Obama is spending $100 million more than Bush. And your problem is with the guy who is setting the record straight?

  17. #17 |  Mike | 

    While factoring in the # of attendees will probably lower the per person price of the party, I don’t know if I follow that logic. It sounds like your saying if you have more people at your party its ok to waste more taxpayer money. So a politician who is more corrupt and pandering to more special interests would be better than one who panders exclusivly to one?

    I think the per capita costs need to come from who is footing the bill (every taxpayer). In that case it is the same for both inagurations.

    That said I do agree that there is a difference between a first and second inaguration. And I imagine security is a lot heavier now as compared to Bush’s first (pre-9/11). Although I’m not sure the extra security is justified or even effective.

  18. #18 |  bobzbob | 

    We have a choice between paying for security or preventing the citizenry from participating in celebatory occasions of state. These occasions serve an important civic purpose-it is a good use of taxpayer money to foot the bill. Second, the expenditure of private and public funds being made here will have a stimulating economic effect – now is a good time for an expensive party.

  19. #19 |  CC | 

    Given the number of assassination threats there have been, I think it’s kind of unreasonable to criticize how much Obama’s folks are spending on security.

  20. #20 |  Matt D | 

    While factoring in the # of attendees will probably lower the per person price of the party, I don’t know if I follow that logic. It sounds like your saying if you have more people at your party its ok to waste more taxpayer money.

    So long as the inauguration remains a public event, I’d say the government is obligated to provide for the security of the President and the attendees.

  21. #21 |  Mike | 

    I wasn’t saying no security just I am not sure there is a justification of additional security vs a pre 9/11 inaguration.

    Still my main point was I don’t think the number of actual attendees should factor in as a justification as to its cost. For public funds it is the same 150 million people who get stuck with the bill in either case.

  22. #22 |  Matt D | 

    Still my main point was I don’t think the number of actual attendees should factor in as a justification as to its cost.

    Uhm, why not? You don’t think the cost of providing security for an event scales with the number of people attending?

  23. #23 |  Mojotron | 

    Still my main point was I don’t think the number of actual attendees should factor in as a justification as to its cost.

    how can it not? With more people, you need more resources. If you order the same number of port-o-potties for million people as you do for a 100,000 things will get messy.

  24. #24 |  CC | 

    Also, it’s not like this is Obama’s wedding and he invited all these people personally.

    People decide to come to town and DC has to provide security and bathrooms for them or really bad things happen. It’s just that simple.

    I’m taking a couple to dinner tonight who drove up from Florida, had tickets and were still turned away because they literally couldn’t fit any more people on the mall. I’ve lived in DC almost my entire life and I don’t remember any other event where that was the case. But I don’t see how that’s Obama’s fault exactly or why he’s being criticized for it.

  25. #25 |  CTD | 

    “don’t see how that’s Obama’s fault exactly or why he’s being criticized for it.”

    Radley isn’t criticizing Obama at all. He’s calling out a partisan hacks who ginned up a ton of righteous outrage when Bush held an extravagant, expensive inauguration, but can’t seem to bring themselves to criticize The One when his is even more extravagant and expensive.

  26. #26 |  Mojotron | 

    I think the difference is that this inauguration is more expensive (more people + greater security) but not as extravagant. YMMV.

  27. #27 |  CC | 

    Yeah, Mojotron, that’s my point exactly.

    If you have to be a partisan hack to say there’s a difference between an inauguration that’s expensive and attended by 400,000 and an inauguration that’s only slightly more expensive because it is provinding basic amenities to 2 million people and security to a president-elect people keep threatening to shoot, then I guess I’m a partisan hack, too.

    The people I know who were there have said that they really wish there had been MORE security and MORE bathrooms as there were soviet-level lines at both. But hey, I guess that would have gotten Obama even more criticism as a spendthrift.

  28. #28 |  Bugs | 

    “Environmentally friendly inauguration” – that’s good. You know how many tons of garbage the city’s had to clean up in the wake of this green-fest? Mainly because, for security reasons, there were very few trash recepticals on the Mall or elsewhere. It will also take about six months for the grass on the mall to grow back.