Friday, January 16, 2009

Make way for the new boss

We've come along way since the early days of the republic when it comes to inaugurating a new president. In 1829, when Andrew Jackson took the oath of office, the public milled around him, offering personal congratulations and blocking his path to the White House. In 2009, after Barack Obama takes the oath, any member of the unwashed masses so unfortunate as to stray through the imperial-style security surrounding the new president is likely to be hustled off to an unpleasant fate -- if he survives the security breach.

Washington socialite Margaret Smith described Andrew Jackson's inauguration in a letter to a friend:

The south side of the Capitol was literally alive with the multitude, who stood ready to receive the hero and the multitude who attended him. . . When the speech was over, and the President made his parting bow, the barrier that had separated the people from him was broken down and they rushed up the steps all eager to shake hands with him. It was with difficulty he made his way through the Capitol and down the hill to the gateway that opens on the avenue. Here for a moment he was stopped. The living mass was impenetrable.

After a while a passage was opened, and he mounted his horse which had been provided for his return (for he had walked to the Capitol) then such a cortege as followed him! Country men, farmers, gentlemen, mounted and dismounted, boys, women and children, black and white. Carriages, wagons and carts all pursuing him to the President's house. . . . [W]e set off to the President's House, but on a nearer approach found an entrance impossible, the yard and avenue was compact with living matter."

By contrast, President Bush has declared a state of emergency to make extra federal funds available for organizing and controlling the inauguration of his successor. Even members of Congress are being told what they can and can't carry on their persons on the big day. The list of items forbidden to lawmakers includes pocket knives, backpacks, alcoholic beverages, signs, posters and thermoses.

Those are the restrictions on politically powerful people.

As for the rest of us ... After decades of increasingly tight security, the crowning of a new emperor ... errr ... president is getting tighter still. Thousands of active-duty military troops supplemented by National Guard personnel will join the ranks of the D.C's 4,000 police. Another 4,000 police are coming in from around the country. Streets will be blocked, bridges sealed, and people hoping for a distant glimpse of Obama will have to pass through security checkpoints.

There haven't even been any terrorist threats to trigger the Iron Curtain-ish ambience of the nation's capital.

In light of the police state implemented to inaugurate a new president for a republic, Time magazine poses a question more of us should be asking:

Is the unprecedented security a wise move given the historic nature of Obama's swearing-in and the tempting target it provides or is it overkill, an indication that the terrorists have already won?

It's not that we should necessarily return completely to the free-for-all that marked the Jackson inauguration -- the White House was ransacked during the party that ensued. But police should be able to clear the streets and watch the doors to the presidential residence without bringing in tanks and modeling the nation's capital on North Korea. Is it too much to ask winners of political office to take a few chances? To ask that they mix and mingle a bit on their way to assuming vast power?

If that's too much for them, if they insist on Praetorian Guards, roadblocks and troops in the street as a necessary display of their new authority as they assume the highest political office in the land, maybe they're just the wrong people for the job in a country that is supposed to be, after all, a republic.

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Blogger Kent McManigal said...

Then again, maybe we should just ignore the whole circus. Let them show the world just what they really are, while the rest of us get on with our increasingly "illegal" lives.

January 17, 2009 10:21 AM  
Blogger akaGaGa said...

They have already won, JD. We just don't know it yet.

January 17, 2009 2:24 PM  
Blogger Joel said...

Beautifully said, JD. Linked.

January 19, 2009 9:44 AM  

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