An Open Letter To President George W. Bush:
Dear Mr. President:
Like millions of Americans, I was moved by your appeal to open my heart and wallet at this time and think about the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. Now I'm appealing to you to hold a more modest inauguration celebration so that money can be used for a more appropriate cause.
Currently, the celebration is estimated at a cost of between $40 and $50 million. It's scheduled to go on for four days, and will include nine official balls, countless "unofficial parties," and a parade. I know the dollar isn't worth what it once was, and the price of those little hot dogs keeps going up, but a four-day, $50-million party? Considering what's going on in the world, these plans make Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake" attitude seem like the height of sensitivity.
Many of your supporters — some of whom even raised money for you — are complaining that they can't afford to come to the celebration. It could easily cost a couple $10,000 to go to the festivities, and some are going to spend $250,000 on the "underwriter package" — which does include a nice lunch. The Republican Party might no longer just be the party of the rich, but with six-figure lunches, this inauguration is definitely a party just for the rich.
I know you're not responsible for planning this overkill. From everything we've been told, you're no longer a party guy, you go to bed early, and you like things simple. No, those who want this elaborate celebration are some of your big big-money supporters. "Only" $1.25 million plus whatever it costs for the unprecedented amount of security will come from ordinary taxpayers. Wealthy individuals and corporations will contribute the bulk of the money. Contributors of $250,000 each to the inauguration celebration include Chevron Texaco, Exxon Mobil, and Occidental Petroleum. But these fat cats will listen to you. If you tell them this is not the appropriate time for something like this, they'll dial back the celebration.
And that's all I'm asking. I'm not suggesting that you cancel it. Celebrate. Have a party. Have a big party. Get all dressed up and dance at the elegant ball. Have some ribs at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Ball. But don't have a four-day "coronation" that says to the world, "champagne and caviar are more important to us than human lives." Cut back on the party and ask those guys to give their big money to something that's really important — just as you asked all Americans.
There is precedent for presidents calling for less elaborate ceremonies. Woodrow Wilson felt the ball was too expensive and unnecessary, and cancelled it. Warren Harding did away with the ball and the parade, hoping to set an example of thrift and simplicity. The inaugurations of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt featured charity balls.
Charity balls instead of self-indulgent balls seem like a pretty good idea at this time. Think of what could be done with that $50 million if you convinced those sponsors to spend their money on more meaningful things than paté and limos. How many parentless victims of the tsunami could be saved with that money? How much body armor could be provided for our soldiers with that money? How many soldiers' families who are having a tough time financially could be helped?
Some readers might prefer to give their opinions about all this to you instead of to me. I'm suggesting they either email you at firstname.lastname@example.org or call you at 202-456-1111. I'm assuming that now that your daughters are getting a little older, they'll actually give you the message if they happen to answer the phone.
Mr. President, we've all been to great parties and then forgotten about them a few days later. No matter which bands play, no matter what fancy chefs cook, no matter what wines are opened, everybody will forget about these inaugural parties pretty soon. But if you convince these people to give their money to a worthy cause instead of just throwing a gala dedicated to excess, no one will ever forget this inauguration. Wouldn't that be a more appropriate way to celebrate America?
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover.
By Lloyd Garver
Copyright 2005 CBS. All rights reserved.