HackWatch: Inauguration Edition


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 to us, with links, and "HackWatch" in the subject line. Previous editions of HackWatch here.