A tale of three presidential inaugurations during wartime and strife. The New York Times found it bad form for Republicans to spend $40 million on President Bush's second inauguration in January 2005, during a time of war. A January 11, 2005 editorial on Bush's second inauguration, "Victor's Spoils," sniffed:
At the rate President Bush's supporters are giving money, his second inauguration threatens to stand out in the history books like the common folks' muddy boot prints on the White House furniture at Andrew Jackson's gala. The $40 million record for inaugural partying set four years ago for Mr. Bush is expected to be shattered this month....Ordinary citizens might have hoped that the overriding issue in Washington- the perilous Iraq war, with its drain on the nation's blood and treasure- would dictate restraint. But plans for the four-day extravaganza roll forward with nine celebratory balls being underwritten by the usual corporate and fat-cat supplicants in the political power mill. There's nothing new in Washington's triumphalist celebrations, festooned with price tags for access, but war usually mutes the singing and dancing. Not this year.
From Scott Shane's January 19, 2005 story previewing Bush's second inauguration: "In response to critics who have questioned the propriety of a lavish inaugural celebration in a time of war, Mr. Bush has made the military a central focus of the week's events, and sponsors of other gatherings this week have followed his lead."
Yet despite wars and an economy limping through recession, extravagance was not a problem for the Times for either Barack Obama's initial $45 million inauguration in 2009 or the one in 2013, with a price tag at an estimated $50 million. In 2009 in particular the Times saw the glitz and glamour as something to be celebrated, not condemned, even though the nation remains at war, as it was at the 2005 Bush inauguration, and is only now barely coming out of recession.
David Kirkpatrick's January 16, 2009 pre-inauguration story on perks for Obama donors, "To Those Who Gave Much, Much Will Be Given," made no mention of the sinking economy, or the propriety of holding such an opulent inauguration during a recession and two wars, as the Times did with Bush in 2005.
Fast-forward to Obama's second inauguration and a January 12, 2013 story by Nicholas Confessore, "Fund-Raising Is Lagging, So Far, for Inaugural Plans." Confessore didn't display any concerns about Obama's $50 million party: "President Obama’s inaugural committee is at least $10 million short of its $50 million fund-raising goal, officials have told top donors, with just over a week before Mr. Obama is sworn in for his second term....The administration has planned a more modest array of events this time around, reflecting a less jubilant public mood than four years ago and diminished demand among Obama supporters."
Sunday pre-inaugural story by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, "Washington Prepares for Festive but Scaled-Down Version of 2009 Events," didn't touch on the matter of opulence in wartime. Her lead:
Tens of thousands of visitors -- most, but not all, happy Democrats -- streamed into a dressed-up capital city this weekend as organizers prepared for an inauguration that, while not as grand as four years ago, is still cause for celebration among supporters of President Obama.
Bob Morris's gossipy piece for the front of the Thursday Styles section, "Inaugural Invitations to Covet, 2013," actually sympathized at the difficulty of Obama raising $50 million for his inaugural: "Well, nobody ever said Washington was an easy town. That’s especially true during fiscally tricky times, which may explain the difficulties that the president’s inaugural committee had raising $50 million for festivities, after the most expensive presidential race in history." But never mind: "...it's still a festive week for all kinds of party animals, especially of the Democratic persuasion."