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News - Hyper security takes the fun out of Bush's swearing-in

Mother Nature, Father Security and a few rambunctious demonstrators combined to take much of the fun out of the celebrations last week surrounding President Bush's second inauguration. I've attended several inaugurations. This year's was the least enjoyable, thanks to a pre-inaugural snowstorm and security measures that were, in a word, oppressive.

The good part was that the president was sworn in to his second term in office without a serious hitch, and he delivered a good inaugural speech. It certainly wasn't the caliber of Ronald Reagan's, but it was one of the better efforts by the former Texas governor.

An inaugural address provides the president's opportunity to say whatever he wants, however he wants and for however long he wants. Thankfully, on that last point, Bush remembered the inverse relationship between the memorability of an inaugural address and its length. Even more thankfully, we didn't have to sit through nonsense about learning to be "a kinder and gentler nation" as did those of us who were present at his father's 1989 speech.

Substance aside, for those who were able to negotiate the security mess - inadequate numbers of metal detectors, too few checkpoints, key roads closed off, and police cars from all over the country flashing their blue lights for every two-bit politician who attended - the week in Washington had much to offer. It is, after all, an honor to be present at the swearing-in of the president of the United States, and beautiful monuments, museums and other landmarks make Washington an inspirational setting.

Wealth, connections and even a good ticket didn't necessarily guarantee a seat. Many who paid top dollar for a place at the swearing-in or along the parade route were unable to even get to their seats because of security snafus. Some unlucky souls ended up on the opposite side of Pennsylvania Avenue from their assigned seating. By the time they got cleared through security at one of the very few security checkpoints, the parade had started, and they weren't allowed to cross.

Protesters, whether conservative or liberal, fared much worse. As during last summer's political conventions in Boston and New York, they were on the receiving end of an anti-terrorist crackdown that has provided justification for chilling political speech in ways unimaginable just a few years ago. Signs and crosses were verboten, based perhaps on new intelligence indicating al-Qaeda plans to infiltrate Bible study groups.

I don't like protesters at an inauguration. An inauguration ought to be the one event at which we simply allow the victor of the previous fall's presidential election to have his day in the limelight, free from criticism. Even the guy who was beaten in November fumes in silence on Jan. 20.

But if people are gauche enough to protest on Inauguration Day, they have a right to do so. And laws designed to thwart Osama bin Laden shouldn't be used to stifle their right to express their views, even when those views are unpleasant to the government. Yet more and more, that is precisely what is happening in America, and Jan. 20, 2005, was a prime example.

Law enforcement efforts to silence protest piled up Jan. 20, on top a series of unfortunate events that are taking much of the fun out of 21st-century politics. Perhaps even the 43rd president realized that: He left the inaugural balls early and headed back to the security of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bob Barr represented parts of Cobb County and northwest Georgia in Congress from 1995 until 2003.??





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