Yes, this nation needs something to celebrate, but a big hoopla over a second-term inaugural is not the ticket.
There should be a law: No super-whoopee inaugurations for second-term presidents.
The whole point is for the president to put his hand on a Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. President Barack Obama already did that four years ago and enough people thought he was doing a good enough job that they re-elected him.
But custom dictates a monster rally in the nation's capital. This time, Obama has asked for corporate contributions to help pay for a big blast. So much for we the people funding a people's party, which drew 1.8 million people in 2009.
Also, January in Washington is cold. It is always cold on Inauguration Day. Travelers from far parts of the realm come to town totally unprepared for how cold it is. They get frostbite. They get lost. They look in vain for a downtown Wal-Mart to buy scarves and mittens. They stand for hours in crowded Metro stations waiting for overcrowded trains. (Taxi drivers have fled to Florida.)
The highlight after the oath of office is the speech. Seldom are second-term speeches riveting, although they can be long. Very long. Did I mention it is held outdoors and the weather is cold?
In 1841, William Henry Harrison spoke outside the Capitol for one hour and 45 minutes in a snowstorm. One month later, he died of pneumonia. Our first president, George Washington, was no dummy. His second inaugural address was only 135 words.
Obama has promised to keep his second inaugural address under 20 minutes. After all, in February he gets to give the State of the Union speech before Congress. It is held inside the Capitol where it is warm. Besides, most people at the swearing- in want to hear Beyonce sing.
After the speech and a lunch in the Capitol comes the parade. Every four years, weeks before Inauguration Day, carpenters start building a giant reviewing stand in front of the White House. It has seats, carpet, miles of glass and heaters. The day after the parade they start tearing it down.
It is now traditional for the president and first lady somewhere along the parade route to get out of the presidential limousine, which this year will sport a District of Columbia license plate reading "Taxation without representation" because D.C. is a ward of the federal government. This walk terrifies the Secret Service, so manholes are locked down, trash receptacles are spirited away and cadres of guys with guns are on nearly every rooftop along the route from the Capitol to the White House. True, it is exciting for high school bands and girls on horseback to be asked to appear in the parade. But after waiting in outlying parking lots for hours, by the time they pass by the reviewing stand in front of the White House, their little feet are frozen and their parents are worried sick.
The president and his family and corporate sponsors and friends sit in the heated stands to watch the bands and horses pass by. Sadly, there are no giant floats made out of 50, 000 flowers. The president tries desperately not to look at his watch. It is now customary for many VIPs to raffle off their parade-seat tickets.
The term Inaugural Ball has a romantic ring. People think "Cinderella." In truth, these events are horrible, held in crowded public buildings. It is difficult to get to the soft drinks and potato chips, let alone move or dance. Women who have mistakenly worn fancy high-heeled shoes are miserable. The highlight is when the president and first lady arrive and dance for a few seconds and then disappear. Former President Bill Clinton's second inauguration featured 14 balls, although Obama's has only two official balls: one for the military and one for 35,000. The evening ends with a mad crush at the coat check and frantic VIPs trying to find their rented limos. Apparently, most limos look alike.
But first-term inaugurations? They're a blast. Only four more years!
(Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the White House and national politics since 1986.)