By all early indications the 2013 inauguration will be a robust five days for Washington, with many balls, receptions, and other events and a prevailing attitude of glamorous celebration, but if there’s any over-the-top partying it will come from the unofficial realm of the occasion. Within the “official” ranks of inaugural planning there’s a keen awareness that given the flaccid economy and the stresses of the fiscal cliff, the order of the day will be scaling back from the size and hoopla of the first Obama inauguration. For example, there will be no concert on the Mall and fewer than the ten official inaugural balls of four years ago.
Officials within the presidential inauguration committee (PIC) stress that the 2013 inauguration will have the same “excitement” of the campaign, but the prevailing tone is clear: that keeping with precedent and in recognition of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery, the events and activities surrounding President Obama’s second inaugural will be smaller in scope than four years ago, according to a PIC official.
Public donations are needed to fund a lot of the official festivities that are separate from the swearing in at the Capitol. To that end, last week the PIC announced it would accept corporate contributions—after initially saying it would not—and the amounts targeted are, at the highest level, $250,000 from individuals and $1 million from institutions. In return the donors will receive a package of tickets for a variety of events, including seats at the parade. Tickets for the swearing-in ceremony are harder to come by and are issued through members of Congress and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
One source, an event planner but not connected to the official events, says she has heard there may be only two principal balls, though the PIC officials say nothing will be certain until they announce final details for the official balls. The official balls would be those sanctioned and organized by the PIC, which does not oversee the large number of state society balls and balls sponsored by organizations—which by our count number at least 35, with more to come. But this same source believes some of the downsizing is due to the fact that this is not the same occasion as 2009, which was hugely historic as the US inaugurated the first African-American President. An estimated 1.8 million people poured into the city for the swearing in and parade.
“I think perhaps too much is being speculated about for the economy and fiscal cliff, and that it is just normal to have a scaled-back second inaugural,” says the event planner. “But time is going to tell whether I’m correct, isn’t it?” A popular and busy Washington hostess who is also a Republican lobbyist agrees that the fiscal cliff may be a non-issue. “The inaugural is several weeks after the cliff would hit,” she says. “All the tax/spending cuts will likely be resolved prior to inaugural, even if we go off the cliff.” But a host with strong Democratic connections, and also a lobbyist, says, “Times have changed. With the economy at the brink, the inaugural will be scaled back.”
In other words, it will be a happy occasion but not necessarily flamboyant, at least not officially. Again, the PIC emphasizes that much of the mood will be similar to the campaigns of President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden.
The PIC plans to kick off the 57th presidential inaugural weekend on Saturday, January 19, with a national day of service, which they also did in ’09. “President Obama will ask Americans across the country to organize and participate in service projects in their communities,” said a press release that also marked the launch of the committee and the designation of co-chairs and honorary co-chairs. The day of service is also to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday holiday coincides with the public swearing in at the Capitol on Monday, January 21. There will also be an earlier swearing in at the White House on the constitutionally mandated inauguration day: January 20, a Sunday.
As was earlier announced, Jim Messina is chair of the inaugural parade, Jen O’Malley Dillon is chair of the national day of service, Julianna Smoot is chair of the inaugural balls and receptions, and Stephanie Cutter is chair of the PIC’s board of directors. Others involved as co-chairs of the official inaugural committee are Matthew Barzun, former ambassador to Sweden and national finance chair of President Obama’s reelection campaign; actress Eva Longoria, co-chair of the Obama for America campaign; Jane Stetson of the Democratic National Committee; and Frank White, a former member of the national advisory council on minority business enterprises. The chief executive of the PIC is Stephen J. Kerrigan, with David Cusack as executive director. The honorary co-chairs are the four living past presidents: Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.