Plans for inaugural fete roll on despite economic crisis
WASHINGTON - Unemployment is on the rise. The stock market is in the tank. Is this any time for a party?
For the sake of the masses of people expected for President-elect Barack Obama's inauguration, let's hope so. While Obama must be sensitive to the nation's time of war and recession, there's still reason to expect a rollicking time.
"We're mindful of the fact that people in this country are hurting, that they're going through hard times," said Linda Douglass, spokeswoman for the Presidential Inaugural Committee. "On the other hand, we see this not just as a celebration of an election, but as a time for people to come together and celebrate their common values and shared aspirations and goals."
The committee has disclosed few celebration details, but it surely won't come cheap. President Bush raised $42 million to help finance his second inauguration. Millions more were spent by the government on security.
Though costly, an inauguration helps set the tone for a presidency, said Gil Troy, a visiting scholar at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
In a country where cigarettes are responsible for one in five deaths and smoking costs tens of billions of dollars in healthcare, Obama has been under pressure to set an example by giving up his reported two-decade-old habit.
Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, interviewer Tom Brokaw told Obama he had ducked answering the question during an interview last month with ABC's Barbara Walters.
Noting that the White House was a no-smoking zone, Brokaw asked Obama, "Have you stopped smoking?"
"I have," Obama replied, smiling broadly. "What I said was that there are times where I have fallen off the wagon."
"Wait a minute," Brokaw interjected, "that means you haven't stopped."
"Fair enough," Obama said. "What I would say is that I have done a terrific job under the circumstances of making myself much healthier. You will not see any violations of these rules in the White House."
Obama was often seen on the presidential campaign trail chewing Nicorette gum, which helps ease the craving for nicotine. He has tried several times to quit.
Obama, 47, who takes office on Jan. 20, works out daily at the gym and sometimes plays basketball. His doctor said in May he was in excellent health, often jogged 3 miles a day, and was fit to serve as US president.
Website www.cigaraficionado.com says Gerald Ford, serving from 1974-77, was the last president to use tobacco on a regular basis. The White House no-smoking rule was imposed by former first lady Hillary Clinton, Obama's secretary of state nominee.