Snow has just hit Washington (this was written at 9:30 a.m.) — and my plane to Miami was the last to get out before Dulles temporarily grounded flights. Good luck to those who will freeze today and tomorrow at the Inaugural festivities.
I had suggested that this coronation-like frenzy be cancelled and replaced by a more modest, quiet, dignified ceremony — with much of the funds saved being directed to those tsunami victims who aren’t going to be able to dream of such parties in their life time.
But this is the peoples’ day I’m told. The citizens of the United States want to see their President take the oath of office — and celebrate that day. The only problem is that you have to be invited to the parade to be able to just stand along the streets and wave.
The White House deceived the public into thinking it could line the parade route by securing tickets through Ticketmaster — only to learn from Ticketmaster that only friends of ‘George & Laura’ were acceptable parts of the public for this event — and that that a certified friend of ‘George & Laura’ number was required to act the role of American citizen along the parade route.
So, to tell you the truth, this is mostly a private event — though the public can watch via the television. If it is mostly a private event, why is the DC taxpayer getting stuck with the bill for this inauguration — or at least a lot of it? I really think that Mayor Anthony Williams should have been much less willing to provide the city’s police forces for this event — and let instead the federal government call in Dyncorps private cops, or its recently returned military forces to provide security. Then the nation would have had a better taste and good visuals of what a high security state we are becoming –- particularly inside the Beltway.
That said, DC cops are tough and nasty enough. I ran into one guy yesterday as I was trying to make my way through the mess that had been created by military and police authorities near the convention center. The city was gridlocked. All parking near the convention center had been prohibited. All garages were full — so that we could celebrate our armed forces at the Convention Center. I’m sure it was a great party. There were thousands of buses everywhere.
The problem was that I had a lunch date with Georg Mascolo, an important journalist and new DC Bureau Chief of Der Spiegel who did a lot of high-quality sleuthing on the Hamburg activities of the 9/11 hijackers, at Zaytinya at 9th and I Streets. I got within 2 blocks of Zaytina on foot in below freezing temperature, and was ordered by a police officer that I could not cross at a crosswalk he was at because they had just decided to close that street to pedestrians. There was no apparent reason for this that I could observe and not that many pedestrians to begin with.
I queried why — and he kept mumbling to me beneath the layers of scarves and mufflers he was wearing, and I indicated I could not hear him.
He then furiously pulled down his muffler and said that he had had it with me, that I could not cross there (which I accepted but wanted an explanation as to why — particularly since George W. wasn’t to place his hand on the bible for a couple more days). He was nasty — and brought out the worst in me. The attitude of people whose job it is to corral citizens is usually nasty — and makes Type A personalities like mine want to do battle with them. If they were far more pleasant and respectful of people, I think we’d feel less negative about the President sticking me (and the rest of DC’s citizens) with part of the tab for his party bouncers.
I told the cop that I was a citizen of the district and would appreciate his having a better attitude — and that I would be happy about walking an extra four blocks in freezing cold weather to get to a restaurant that I could see just across the street if he would be more respectful of those who are paying his salary. That didn’t make him happy.
He responded that “the job of citizens is to do what I tell them to do.” Not necessary. He was pushing my buttons, and me his. But I took his name and badge number — and I’m going to tell Mayor Williams that I’d rather he not deploy any of our city’s policemen and women to the next inauguration, no matter who is president, because it turns our cops into wannabe, be-really-tough-on-the locals soldiers. In fact, soldiers for the most part are far nicer and thoughtful actually.
I am sure I’m going to be blasted by some for offering gross characterizations of cops and soldiers — and I know of dozens of exceptions of what I’m suggesting here. But it doesn’t change the bottom line that DC citizens are increasingly living in a police state.
Fred Hiatt, Editor of the Washington Post‘s editorial pages, and someone who supports the White House’s foreign policy much more than I, also bemoans the uglification of Washington behind security barriers everywhere. I wrote about this same problem some months ago here.
American democracy — and the symbolic representation of its transparency, openness, and access — is what Washington is supposed to exemplify. But when inaugural parades become ‘invite only’ — and we mar the beauty and block general access to the marble and stone of monuments on the mall and in the tidal basin — not to even get into the fences, barriers, and permanently blocked roads around the White House and Capitol — then we have symbolically and visually what we voted for: a high fear/low trust government and nation.
The sad thing that I think unites Bush-supporters and those who opposed him is that all sides see dark times now, and very few envision a time of greater trust, hope, and opportunity. They may believe in different policy courses, but they all agree that this has become a time of fear and challenge for what we believe in, but we are clearly not united in how to overcome that fear.
— Steve Clemons