It will be one of the biggest parties in American history, but half of the country will be left out. With a price tag of up to $50 million, President George W Bush's inauguration in 11 days' time will be an unashamed celebration of Red America's victory over Blue America in last November's election.
It is going to be the most expensive, most security-obsessed event in the history of Washington DC. An army of 10,000 police, secret service officers and FBI agents will patrol the capital for four days of massive celebrations that some critics have derided as reminiscent of the lavish shindigs thrown by Louis XIV, France's extravagant Sun King.
More than 150,000 people, nearly all Republicans whose tickets are a reward for election work, will pack the Mall to hear Bush take his oath of office on 20 January. There will be nine official balls, countless unofficial ones, parades and a concert hosted by Bush's daughters, Jenna and Barbara.
Amid the official pageantry will be many huge parties laid on by companies wishing to win favor with Washington's power players. Anyone who is anyone in Republican circles will be in town. Many Democrats will be leaving. With so many big names in one place, security measures will include road blocks, anti-aircraft guns guarding the skies and sniper teams patrolling the rooftops.
Many observers say it is all too much. 'We have elected a President who seems to have quite a monarchical role. It is a bit of a coronation,' said Larry Haas, a former official in Bill Clinton's White House.
Certainly, Bush's inauguration will be an orgy of gladhanding and partying by the Republican faithful from all over the country. One Washington hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, is offering visitors four nights in its Presidential Suite for $200,000. The price tag includes a 24-hour butler, a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce or Humvee, daily champagne and caviar and a flight to the hotel in a private jet.
One highlight of the bonanza is the Black Tie and Boots Ball organized by Bush's home state of Texas, with the President as star guest. Ten thousand tickets sold out in less than 50 minutes, and are now trading privately at $1,300 each. Another is the Commander-in-Chief's Ball where Bush will honor American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is billed as the centerpiece of the inauguration, which itself has a theme tinged with the idea of military service.
All the partying is being condemned by many commentators as in poor taste for a nation fighting a bloody war.
Carroll Wilson, editor of the Texas newspaper the Times Record, has called the cost obscene and 'a horrendous waste'. 'There's something inherently embarrassing about spending $50m on a party that will start and end in the blink of a very red eye,' he added.
The fighting in Iraq has provoked calls for the celebrations to be toned down, as they were during the two world wars when some were even canceled. Bush's second inauguration will be the first in wartime since President Richard Nixon took office in 1969 during the Vietnam conflict.
Yet the partying is being intensified. The Commander-in-Chief's Ball is being hailed by organizers as a fitting tribute to American soldiers on active service. More than 2,000 troops and their partners, selected by the Pentagon, will take part. Most have served in Iraq or Afghanistan or are about to go there. The parades will have a stronger than normal military theme.
That angers many anti-war protesters who say the lavish celebration is inappropriate during conflict. Some conservative commentators have even joined the fray, contrasting the spending with a recent scandal over a shortage of armor for American soldiers and their vehicles.
A huge series of demonstrations is now being planned which organizers say will be much larger than the ones that marked Bush's first inauguration after the contested Florida recount in 2000. 'We want our voices to be heard,' said a spokesman for the Answer Coalition, which is co-ordinating the protests.
The huge security presence means there is likely to be little disruption, especially of the oath-taking ceremony itself. More vulnerable may be the corporate events taking place all over the city.
The $50m bill is mostly being paid by private donations from people and firms currying political favor With a strict ban on large single donations to active political campaigns, the inauguration offers a rare chance for companies and individuals to lavish large sums of money on the President and his party simultaneously.
The big donors are split into 'underwriters', who stumped up $250,000 each, and 'sponsors', who merely shelled out $100,000. Both gain access to a variety of events that will be attended by Bush. The donors are a familiar roster of Republican supporters and big business. They include firms in the President's former business, oil, such as Exxon Mobil and ChevronTexaco, former Enron president Richard Kinder and Texas oil baron Boone Pickens, who also gave $500,000 to the anti-John Kerry campaign of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.
Though the guests will be celebrating Bush's victory, some Washington insiders will also be keeping a keen eye on the jockeying for position that has already begun for the next election.
'The clock to 2008 starts ticking the second after Bush finishes his oath,' Haas said 'At that moment Republicans begin moving into position for that. Bush should enjoy his moment while he can.'
© 2005 Guardian Newspapers, Ltd.