Blogs > Cliopatria > Forget the Speech, What About the Parade?

Jan 24, 2005 8:34 pm

Forget the Speech, What About the Parade?

History will little note or long remember President Bush's inaugural parade. It was neither short nor long enough to be memorable and nothing that happened was particularly noteworthy. B-36 Bombers did not feign an attack on the White House as they did at Truman's 1949 parade. A cowboy did not lasso the president as one did Ike in 1953 (to his great irritation, apparently, his smile notwithstanding). George and Laura did not walk hand-hand down the length of Pennsylvania Avenue as Jimmy and Rosalynn did.

But though the parade did not make history, it reflected history, as all inauguration festivities have.

From the beginning of the Republic people felt the urge to parade through the streets in celebration of the swearing in of a new president. Washington was so mobbed after his swearing-in in April 1789 that he had to walk to church afterwards; he could not reach his carriage because of the crowds, which accompanied him as he walked seven blocks to reach his destination.

During the birth of the democratic age in the 1820s ordinary people mobbed the White House. When technology began to assume great importance, the telegraph was used at an inauguration, photographs were taken of the swearing-in, and the parade was filmed for a newsreel. As soon as radio became a reality an inauguration was broadcast. In 1948 Truman’s was televised. After JFK was killed security was tightened and the open convertible was dispensed with. Once television became embedded in the culture and politics, the swearing-in ceremony itself was moved from the east to the west side of the capitol so that the cameras could take in the sweeping views of the monuments on the mall.

So what happened in 2005 that reflected history? More than anything it was the overwhelming presence of security forces. Some 6,000 people stood guard over the proceedings—a record, of course. To gain entry to events partygoers had to wait up to three hours to clear security.

In the hallways of hotels it wasn’t President Bush’s speech people talked about inauguration weekend. It was the security. One couple from Sugarland, Texas told me the security had been so tight that they actually had to forego seeing the president’s speech. That night as they headed to a ball they were still miffed, though they understood, as we all did, that after 9-11 security is now the order of the day.

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HNN - 1/26/2005

Actually, this was the first parade in memory where protesters were given a place on Pennsylvania Avenue from which to scream, wave signs, and throw stuff.

Ed Darrell - 1/26/2005

Security was tightened for Reagan's first inaugural, and to me, additional security has been just small add-ons.

What was different this time was that the security was done in what appeared from Texas as an intentionally oppressive manner, designed to stifle dissent if possible, designed to impress those who came to celebrate as much as those who might have come to disrupt.

Not just tighter security, this was a genuine Sovietification of an American event -- and in the worst way, bringing in the totalitarian aspects, not the communal ones. The first blocks of the parade, past hundreds of military people standing guard, and no one else, were eerie displays that reminded me more of Pyongyang than of Washington.