Strange Brouhaha

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Splashy Inaugurations, Thomas Jefferson...and Jimmy Carter

Here is a Harper's-style roundup of Bush's inauguration festivities with tidbits such as how much lobster the Mandarin Oriental hotel is laying on for guests and how much WORTHWHILE things the inauguration money could have purchased, such as "emergency health care for displaced tsunami survivors" and "schooling for girls in Afghanistan."

Buried in there is a figure concerning Jimmy Carter. It turns out that he spent $1 per guest on food at his inaugural party. He served snack foods like pretzels.

Carter is, famously, the president who carried his own dry cleaning over his shoulder in public. I believe he may also have walked the route of his inauguration, although I am not sure. It seems clear to me now that he was trying to emulate Thomas Jefferson, whose deep humility at his own inauguration is the subject of one of my earlier posts.

Anyhow. Jimmy Carter quickly became roadkill for the emerging neoconservative media machine, and stunts like carrying his dry cleaning were a big reason why. In the year 2000, the American media made fun of Al Gore for serving them yogurt and granola bars as snacks. They preferred Candidate Bush, who served them lobster sandwiches and designer water. Can you imagine how they would have reacted (and how their older colleagues probably did react) to Carter's modesty with public money at his inauguration? (Yet it was in these very years that the cry "tax-and-spend" got started. Apparently that is only a problem if the "spending" is on poor people. If it's on your own goddamn party, hey, rock on.)

Anyhow, I just wanted to recognize Jimmy Carter for his grace, for his dignity, for his public humility, and to say how sorry I am that this country failed to recognize his humility for what it was and turned away from the leadership it gave us. I guess we wanted the boot, the boot, the brute, like Sylvia Plath's everywoman--as long as it was glamorous and lavish, as befitted our pride. Well, we got it.


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