You could just fuel up the old car and head for Washington, hoping to get a hotel within a couple of hours of the city, then bundling up against the cold and try to find a place on the parade route, or a spot on the National Mall to see the swearing-in and hear his speech.
Those choices offer limited chances at really being able to see or hear very much. About all you could say was that you were there.
But, if you have a wallet stuffed with money, and if you have an insatiable desire to be part of the in-crowd festivities, then just pony up from $75,000 to $1 million, and the Obama Inaugural Committee will see to it that you and a few thousand other of the president’s closest friends get to party up close and personal.
Or you at least get access to one of only two inaugural balls, prime bleacher seats for the parade and access to other receptions that the poorer among us just don’t have a chance to make.
Let’s start with the $1 million level. Here is what you get for that:
Four tickets to the Inaugural Ball are included and they are hard to get this year, with only two being held. In 2008, there were 10 Inaugural Balls, and although the president and first lady might not have stayed long, they showed up at each and every one. This year, with only two on their schedule, perhaps the First Couple can stay a while and dance more than one quick number for the crowd.
To be fair about it, planners did offer some $60 tickets to the ball for the general public. They didn’t last long.
The other ball in Washington on that glittery night will be the Commander in Chief’s Ball. It is by invitation only to members of the military and others deemed worthy of attendance. There is no charge for that gala event. We have no criticism for that event. The military deserves special attention, and we can only hope that a few enlisted soldiers or lower-level officers get to go along with the generals and other military elite.
But, let’s get back to that $1 million ticket. The ball tickets are the big attraction, of course, but there is more to be had for $1 million. Two bleacher seats to the parade are included. That means two of the ones holding ball tickets will either hang over the fence with the other free-loaders, or just stay at their hotel and rest up for the evening’s festivities. There are also tickets to a Candle Light Reception on Inaugural Eve, tickets to a children’s concert and a “Road Ahead” meeting with the president’s financial team and tickets to a Benefactor’s Reception that will kick off the weekend.
If you are not quite up to the $1 million level, there is a second-tier package that goes for donations from $150,000 to $500,000. There are only two ball tickets in this package, no parade seats and some of the other receptions and events are not included either.
There are other levels that go from $10,000 for individuals up to $100,000 for corporations. Other levels of access and admittance go for donations ranging from $75,000 for individuals and $250,000 for corporations.
No need to list their perks. You get the idea — the more you spend, the more you get.
President Obama is not the first president to charge a hefty price for admission to inaugural events. It has been done before and will be done again.
But for his first inauguration, he worked hard, it seemed, to make more events available for reasonable prices, and it seemed he truly wanted as many Americans as possible to participate.
That doesn’t seem to be the case his year. In 2008, his committee raised $53 million in private money for the celebration of seeing this country’s first black president take office. A record 1.8 million people packed the National Mall to see him take office. This year, less than half that number is expected.
And the numbers cited above mean that those who are there in 2012 will be the well-heeled, or the leaders of corporations who want access to the president, for whatever reason.
His committee members say it is high-pressure these days to raise the money needed for the inauguration. The most expensive presidential campaign in history ($2 billion) just ended, and it is hard to go back to some of those same people and ask for more.
President Obama was once a vocal critic of those super-Pac political fundraisers who could spend as much as they wanted to support a candidate. His first victory, he bragged, was based on small but numerous donations from a first time use of the Internet as a fundraising tool. He later took the Super Pac money, when he was faced with a Republican candidate with mountains of cash to spend.
That change of heart seems to have leaked over to his swearing-in ceremony as well. Last time, it was as close as could be to an open invitation for the country to see, in person, a historic inauguration. This time around, it seems to be a closed party to all but those with fat wallets.
Disappointing? Without a doubt.