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Ideas need time to gather momentum, and no idea — no matter how good — works if introduced at the last minute. So if we start talking about this now, it will seem natural in January of 2017. So listen up candidates! I mean, “Mr. President.”
Don’t throw an inaugural ball. Just don’t. Don’t invite musicians to play and jam with on stage. Don’t ask poets to exhort you, or the public to line up and greet you with a parade. Don’t give the press an opportunity to speculate about who will wear which gown or what singer will belt out the national anthem. Take the oath, give your speech, and get to work.
Oh, the howls of cynicism and sneers of “optics”! The gnashing of teeth of the political class! But there are huge payoffs to this approach.
The first is literally fiscal. No Republican can win without a compelling plan to reduce the size and expense of government, and — no matter how underwritten with private money an inaugural ball may be — it will inevitably involve massive security costs on the taxpayer’s dime. So start walking the walk with the very first thing you have control over.
The second payoff is simple virtue. Our presidents are not kings. There will be innumerable opportunities for pomp and circumstance over the next few years. Show some restraint. Make the day boring. Make it about the work.
The final payoff is symbolic. This presidency, your decision will say, will be different. In advertising, you always push to differentiate yourself from your competitors. If they sell quality, you sell price. If they talk speed, you talk relationships. Throwing a better version of the same party won’t work — the last guy really could get A-listers; you can’t — and will signal you’re no different than your predecessor. Besides, no one wants to see you dance. It’s awkward for you and for us.
To those who say that the inaugural ball and related festivities are critical ways to say “thank you” to campaign staffers, volunteers, and donors, I would simply suggest that the best way to thank them is to do the job you were elected to do. And to those volunteers — whom I plan to be among — I would simply say that this is not the form of thank you we should want. Let’s throw our own party. One without the grownups. They’re at work.
So in late January of 2017, be better: be boring and be about the job. And if you start thinking about it now, you won’t feel like you’re missing anything important in January 2017. Because you won’t be. You’ll be at work.
Image Credit: “Obamas dance at Neighborhood Ball 1-20-09 090120-F-9629D-686” by Tech. Sgt. Suzanne Day, USAF – Source. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.