Opinion: Inaugural Buzz and Bummers

012009 Inauguration Crowd lead
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It’s a given. Any president’s second inaugural really isn’t as big a deal as the first.

That’s doubly so for President Barack Obama. How does he top his historic election in 2008 and inaugural party that followed?

Crowds for the festivities through Monday’s ceremony and parade are expected to be respectable, but a fraction of the estimated million-plus that flooded the city four years ago.

Street vendors understand what’s happening. In 2009, more than 1,000 vendors sought special licenses to sell wares on the street. This year, just about 100 or so vendors signed up. (That’s still pretty good. City officials say that for the second George W. Bush inaugural in 2005, only about two dozen vendors applied.)

The Notebook is bummed that Aretha Franklin is not making a return appearance this year. Her rendition of “America (My Country, ’Tis of Thee)” was so powerful. And, of course, the dramatic hat had the country talking.

The New York Times a couple of days later reported:

“She reached back to her gospel roots and adorned herself as if for church, topping her outfit with a dove-gray wool chapeau, dominated by a giant bow set off at a jaunty angle and ringed in sparkling Swarovski crystals.

“The hat was an instant sensation. Even before Ms. Franklin had finished singing ‘My Country, ’Tis of Thee’ on the inaugural podium, calls began pouring in to her hat designer, Luke Song, 36, of Mr. Song Millinery in Detroit, Ms. Franklin’s home town.”

And the Smithsonian itself asked for the hat for its collection.

Just for the record, singer Kelly Clarkson will sing “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” on Monday. She’s good. But she’s not Aretha.

■ The oath. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will again swear in President Obama. But the public ceremony in front of the Capitol will be only for show. By law, the president has to be sworn in by noon on Jan. 20. That’s a Sunday this year. Obama will take the oath in private at the White House, and they’ll do it again for the public on Monday.

“I will be honored to again stand on the inaugural platform and take part in this important American tradition,” Obama was quoted as saying in the official announcement.

■ Purple tunnel of doom. Four years ago thousands of people who thought they had preferential inaugural seating (the purple section) wound up being stuck in the 3rd Street Tunnel. There aren’t any purple-colored tickets this year, and the tunnel will be closed.

We’re sure there will be some kind of snafu somewhere — just because the inaugural is so huge an undertaking, even if it is a second one for Obama.

■ On the home front. What’s an inaugural without a protest?

Mayor Vincent Gray has said he would erect some kind of sign in front of the Wilson Building to protest the city’s lack of voting rights and/or statehood. As our deadline arrived, we were still awaiting word on what type of protest it might be.

The city did get good news this week that the White House will put the city’s “taxation without representation” license tag on the presidential limousine. The White House said it would stay on through the Obama second term.

“President Obama has lived in the District now for four years, and has seen firsthand how patently unfair it is for working families in D.C. to work hard, raise children and pay taxes, without having a vote in Congress,” said White House spokesperson Keith Maley. “Attaching these plates to the presidential vehicles demonstrates the President’s commitment to the principle of full representation for the people of the District of Columbia and his willingness to fight for voting rights, home rule and budget autonomy for the District.”

The D.C. Council passed a resolution urging Obama to put the District’s “taxation without representation” tags on his car. President Bill Clinton used them, but Bush and Obama didn’t play along.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Ward 3’s Mary Cheh, who authored the unanimous resolution, took the plate to the White House last week. They met briefly with an official but came away with no immediate assurance the tag will be used.

And worse, much of the media coverage came as ridicule because the council leaders initially tried to get a city police escort to the White House, about three blocks away.

The sporadic efforts in the city to highlight the District’s second-class citizenship seem never to take hold. There’s a dramatic decision at one point for people to get arrested; then the effort fades away. There’s a march on Congress; then, there’s nothing. There are meetings on the Hill and then, again, nothing.

The fight for voting rights in the city has ebbed and waned. The organization DC Vote has tried any number of things. When will something stick?

Maybe the activists should get Aretha Franklin to sing for them? And she can wear that hat.

■ March for Life. Just four days after the inaugural, the city really will have a massive crowd in town. It’s the 40th annual March for Life protesting the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortions.

Whether you are “pro-life” or “pro-choice” or any other designation when it comes to abortion, the crowd that annually assembles in Washington is huge. The rally starts at noon on the National Mall, and the march itself begins about 1:30 p.m. It takes several hours for the crowd to march up Constitution Avenue to Capitol Hill and then assemble in front of the Supreme Court building.

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