Why President-elect Joe Biden should cancel the inaugural balls during COVID

Maybe it’s not the time for a lavish party.

As President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office and as COVID-19 rages across America, it seems problematic at best for anyone to be planning a series of inaugural balls. Would attendees all wear masks and practice social distancing?

Doesn’t sound like much fun after having spent money on the tickets, the gowns and the tuxedos. It even conjures images of Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death” — fictional yes, yet it doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch for comparison.

How can the new administration justify such an event after having lambasted the Trump administration’s cavalier super-spreading Rose Garden event in honor of new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett?

In recent days COVID’s American death toll has surpassed 250,000 and it will continue to rise. Between now and the inaugural, the news is bound to be worse, not better.

Aside from the pure health safety issues, the new administration might consider that many Americans are hurting financially and can’t dream of attending a gala right now. Maybe it’s time for a more sober approach.

After being elected to a third term in 1982, former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm’s office issued a short release announcing that because the state was suffering from a recession, it seemed inappropriate to hold a big party. So he didn’t hold one.

President Franklin Roosevelt held small private parties when he was re-elected during the Great Depression. After a long respite, President Harry Truman had an inaugural ball in 1949.

Since then, the inaugural parties have mushroomed into giant affairs in multiple locales in Washington, bankrolled by wealthy donors. The good news is that tax dollars are not used for these events. The bad news is that the cash is “donated” by special interests hoping for some kind of payback later on.

The inaugural ball actually has become a series of garish parties. President Bill Clinton set the dubious record of having 14 separate balls; President George W. Bush cut it back to nine.

That’s quite a bit of fandango and festoonery. How many renditions of ‘Hail to the Chief’ before it gets old?

What if no inaugural ball is held?

Well, some campaign workers who came out on the winning end would be disappointed about not receiving the celebratory reward for their services. They’d probably get over it.

About half of American voters did not support Biden. They’re not going to complain. Most of those who supported Biden would probably understand the point being made.

Politically, setting a different tone seems right. Not rubbing the losers’ noses in it by holding a big party seems right. Perhaps if one wants to be the president of all the people one does not throw a party for just half of them.

Both Republicans and Democrats have been guilty of going over the top with this but it wasn’t always that way. It’s a fairly recent phenomenon that inaugural balls became such a big deal.

Even after we overcome COVID, there is a way of looking at inaugural balls differently.

Barry Noreen is a longtime Colorado journalist.

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