By now, I’m sure most of you have heard the horror story about the apples-and-oranges comparisons between Bush’s inauguration costs and Obama’s. If not, here’s the story at Media Matters.
Here’s why using the $160 million number and comparing it with Bush’s 2005 costs represented a classic apples-and-oranges assessment: For years, the press routinely referred to the cost of presidential inaugurations by calculating how much money was spent on the swearing-in and the social activities surrounding that. The cost of the inauguration’s security was virtually never factored into the final tab, as reported by the press. For instance, here’s The Washington Post from January 20, 2005, addressing the Bush bash:
The $40 million does not include the cost of a web of security, including everything from 7,000 troops to volunteer police officers from far away, to some of the most sophisticated detection and protection equipment.
For decades, that represented the norm in terms of calculating inauguration costs: Federal dollars spent on security were not part of the commonly referred-to cost. (The cost of Obama’s inauguration, minus the security costs? Approximately $45 million.) What’s happening this year: The cost of the Obama inauguration and the cost of the security are being combined by some in order to come up with the much larger tab. Then, that number is being compared with the cost of the Bush inauguration in 2005, minus the money spent on security.
This calculation showed up not just on Fox, but on MSNBC, because all these fuckers are in the habit of repeating slander they see on the Drudge Report as if it were news. I don’t think that the people at MSNBC were being willful in this, but I have exactly zero doubt that the right wing sources who started this story knew that’s it’s intellectually dishonest to remove the costs of security from Bush’s figure and include it in Obama’s. And they didn’t care. This is going to be a major issue for the next 4-8 years. Right wingers will just blatantly lie about Obama, Drudge will post links, and the morons in the mainstream media will repeat the lies without doing basic fact-checking. Which will be left to Media Matters. Great.
To make it worse, the lie has an unsavory element to it that Brian Beutller teases out.
Instead, though, the press has quietly started holding Obama accountable for the high cost of protecting himself. Whereas before, it was customary to factor in security as an acceptable cost of doing business, it now falls to this incoming president to be discreet, if only to keep costs down.
Regardless of whether you think Obama has high-minded motivations or is just a really ambitious person, it’s undeniable that he and his wife have demonstrated a great deal of courage in undertaking this campaign and office. And our worst fears about the worst elements of our society have been backed up by the piles of threats that Obama has received. This isn’t going to get better, but worse, I suspect, because on top of the crazy white supremacist stuff, you’re going to see the development of a cottage industry dedicated to spinning conspiracy theories to “prove” what most wingnuts are eager to believe, which is that Obama is not a legitimate President. There’s a reason you all know the name of Vince Foster, and it’s because the wingnuts did it to Clinton. But now they have the shame of having elected Dubya Bush to office, and so they’re going to be eager to lash out even more, because the President they hate is cleaning up the enormous mess they caused.
The cost of security is the price we pay for what’s likely to be a new era of openness from the White House. The Obamas got out of the limo and took the walk down Pennsylvania Avenue for part of the parade, a tradition that Bush broke with out of a combination of his contempt for the citizenship trappings of the Presidency, and out of fear of getting hit with eggs, a fear that Obama didn’t have to share. It was an important gesture to make, because it’s a symbolic break with the closed doors and secrecy of the Bush White House. Plus, the people who elected Obama want to see him out there interacting with the public, and the cost of that is paying for security.
I don’t think the wingnuts who started this story were consciously up to anything more but floating a blatant lie in order to slander Obama and imply that he thinks he’s some big deal. But I do think there was a subconscious element of begrudging him and the people who voted for him Obama’s popularity and openness, because the preferred President of wingnuts is a loathed figure who really does think he’s too good to show respect for the trappings of democracy. And so it results in begrudging Obama the security price tag that comes with going out in the public to wave and shake hands. And let’s face it—the Obama inauguration did seem more glittery, but not because it cost more. It’s because the attendees were more glamorous. Obama gets Beyonce to sing for him, and lucky Bush got Ben Stein to crack unfunny jokes. It’s the dueling Starbucks problem, but this time with more balls.