WASHINGTON -- Jubilant Republicans are descending on a nippy Washington for President Bush's second inaugural on Thursday, an affair of celebrations and protest, pomp and a predicted high temperature of 35 degrees.
Beneath the festivities surrounding the 55th presidential inauguration, there is a current of unease. Washington is capital of a nation at war, with 150,000 Americans serving in Iraq and 18,000 in Afghanistan. So far, more than 1,500 military personnel have been killed in the two countries, with more than 10,000 wounded.
Some critics have suggested scaling back Thursday's inaugural, which will cost $40 million in privately raised funds for the parties, parade, dinners and entertainment events. It will cost tens of millions of dollars more in public money for an unprecedented security effort that will involve about 6, 000 people who will cordon off a large chunk of downtown.
"Precedent suggests that inaugural festivities should be muted -- if not canceled -- in wartime,'' Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-New York City, wrote to Bush last week. He suggested putting some of the money toward helping the troops.
Weiner, who is mulling a run for mayor of New York, cited the example of an ailing President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who in January 1945 limited his inaugural celebration in the midst of World War II to a simple ceremony on the White House balcony, followed by a spartan buffet lunch featuring chicken salad, pound cake and coffee.
However, there is no clear precedent for whether wartime inaugurals should be gala or solemn.
In 1865, crowds overran the White House for President Abraham Lincoln's second inauguration as the Civil War was drawing to a close. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's first inaugural was the biggest staged up to that time, and President Richard M. Nixon's 1969 and 1973 inaugurals -- held amid the divisive Vietnam War -- weren't scaled down.
"These are sober times. ... The image that is most troubling is of a president in black tie holding a champagne flute at a time when so many soldiers are eating out of a plastic pouch while getting shot at in Iraq," Weiner added.
About 60 protests are planned for the inaugural, representing a variety of anti-war, anti-Bush, anti-capitalist, pro-environment, pro-abortion rights and pro-civil liberties causes. One group sued last week, claiming that the National Park Service is unduly limiting protesters' access to Pennsylvania Avenue, widely known as "America's main street.''
Access to the bleachers set up along Pennsylvania will be restricted to those who have bought tickets from the private Presidential Inaugural Committee, or the committee's guests.
The White House has rejected the idea of truncating the three-day inaugural plans, which call for a patriotic pageant called "American Heroes --
A Salute to Those Who Serve" today at the indoor MCI Center, Washington's downtown arena; a youth concert at the D.C. Armory featuring Hillary Duff; fireworks on Wednesday evening; a two-hour parade on Pennsylvania Avenue after the ceremony on the Capitol's west front at noon Thursday; and nine inaugural balls that evening.
"They're a ceremony of our history. They're a ritual of our government. I think it's really important to have the inauguration every time,'' first lady Laura Bush told a reporters' roundtable in the White House last Friday.
Her view was seconded by 77-year-old Charlie Brotman, who on Thursday will handle the announcing duties at the inaugural parade for the 13th consecutive time. It's an unpaid job that Brotman, former public address announcer for the Washington Senators, said he has gladly undertaken since Eisenhower's second parade in 1957.
"Let's continue our normal lives as best we can,'' said Brotman, who will be stationed atop the reviewing stand erected across Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House. From there, he serves as the president's eyes and ears, alerting the president in his heated reviewing stand to what marching units and floats are coming his way.
"It's just a few hours of entertainment. The war isn't going to stop tomorrow,'' he said.
The entertainment has already started in Washington, and by the time Thursday comes, local hotels will be jammed with an estimated 100,000 visitors.
At Political Americana, a collectibles shop on Pennsylvania, trinkets marking the second inauguration of Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney fill the shelves. There's a $4 "You're Hired'' button featuring Bush and millionaire Donald Trump, star of NBC's reality series "The Apprentice.''
A Navy blue golf towel carrying the inaugural logo sells for $12.99, and a coffee mug bearing the likenesses of the president and vice president goes for the same price.
Bush has told inaugural organizers that he wants Thursday's parade to last no more than two hours, a formidable task because it will feature about 11,000 participants in six dozen military units, color guards, marching bands and floats from around the country spread out over a route of 1.7 miles.
Based on his experience, Brotman is skeptical it can be done. "Two hours? Yeah, I hear that every four years,'' he said.
© 2005 San Francisco Chronicle