King Obama and His Big Inaugural Balls

Why second-term inauguration bashes should be outlawed.

In this economy, it takes balls to have balls. Even if you only have two.

Two official presidential balls took place last night in our nation’s capital, part of the festivities surrounding President Obama’s second inauguration. Granted, that’s eight fewer Obama balls than were held the first time around, but still.

No price tag yet for the President’s three-day celebration, but the tab for Obamapalooza in ’09, a four-day event, was estimated at $170 million. Private donors picked up some of the costs, with U.S. taxpayers footing the rest of the bill.

What a waste.

An argument can be made for presidents going a little cuckoo over their first inaugurations, especially after a history-making election like that of Obama. But why do it a second time? That kind of overkill smacks of a coronation, not an election. And coronations should not take place on financial cliffs, regardless of European history.

This is not unique to Obama, of course. All incumbent presidents pop the champagne corks over several days for their second inaugurations. Like second weddings, however, these tend to be comparatively toned-down affairs.

Well, except in the case of Bill Clinton. Our 42nd president was flat-out crazy for I-balls. He and then-First Lady Hillary attended 14 of them for his second inauguration, in ’97, compared to 11 for his entry into office, in ’93. Either way, that’s a lot of balls.

Bottom line, second-term inaugurations are monstrously expensive, self-aggrandizing time sucks. They should be abolished, by law.

Parades, concerts, presidential balls, massive security, thousands of Port-a-Potties on the National Mall—it all adds up. Yesterday’s swearing-in ceremony alone will cost $1.24 million, according to the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

Further down the food chain, District of Columbia residents will have to swallow a reported $342,000 in construction costs for the viewing stand of their mayor, Vincent Gray, who’s campaigning for the District’s statehood. (And we thought Marion Barry was crazy.)

Some argue that pomp and circumstance are essential to any presidential inaugural, that they reinforce the majesty and continuity of our precious democracy. Maybe so, but on the second go-around, it shouldn’t come at such a heavy price.

President Obama’s stunning inauguration speech—destined for the history books because of his clarion call for gay equality—would have been just as powerful in a more cost-effective setting. For example, in his State of the Union address.

As for the frillier stuff, why bother? I fail to see the point of an official ball for a second-term president other than as a payback to fat cats and cronies—which is the first-term inaugural ball’s raison d’etre, but with the genuine sense of excitement that only a newcomer can bring to the party.

For an incumbent, think of what all those millions of dollars could do instead of underwriting platforms (literally) and parties and parades. Given the tenor of our times, gun control would be a more deserving recipient.

So I say to you, my fellow Americans, let the first-term presidents party hearty at their inaugurations. They’ve earned it. But for the sake of fiscal sanity, second-termers should just say no. Let them save the fancy footwork for Congress. They’re familiar with the dance.