Obama Drastically Reduces Number Of Inaugural Balls

There will be far less official partying in Washington on Inauguration Day than there has been in the past:

WASHINGTON (AP) — With his nation under financial strain, President Barack Obama is restricting the inaugural balls to the lowest number in 60 years, with just two official parties plus a concert honoring military families.

The subdued celebration revealed Thursday is a big cut in reveling from the 10 balls Obama attended four years ago. Planners say the austerity in festivities is a reflection of tough economic times and an effort to minimize the burden on law enforcement, other security personnel and Washington residents.

Both balls are being planned at the Washington Convention Center on Monday, Jan. 21, the evening of Obama’s public inauguration at the Capitol on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Under the Constitution, the president’s second term begins Jan. 20 at noon, but he’ll be sworn in privately at the White House — with limited media coverage — since inaugural celebrations traditionally aren’t held on Sundays.

One party will be the Commander In Chief’s Ball, a tradition started by President George W. Bush for members of the Armed Forces. Tickets will be free for invited guests, including active duty and reserve service members, Medal of Honor recipients and wounded warriors, among others, with troops overseas participating via video. The other ball, simply being called the Inaugural Ball, will be larger than usual and held across all the halls in the vast convention center. Some tickets will be available to the public. For Obama’s first inauguration, six balls were held in the convention center.


[I]n recent times, presidents have tended to increase the celebration to kick off a second term. Bush went from eight balls in 2001 to nine in 2005, although he openly loathed the public display of dancing that is traditional for the first couple and sped through the parties in drop-by fashion.

Clinton went from 11 balls in 1993 to a record 14 in 1997.

The tradition has its roots with the country’s first inauguration in 1789, when sponsors held a ball in George Washington’s honor a week after he was sworn into office in New York City. The first official inaugural ball was 20 years later, when James Madison’s wife, Dolley, hosted a $4-per-ticket hotel gala for 400 guests.

President Jimmy Carter attempted to strip the balls of their glitz and glamour post-Watergate in 1977, calling his seven “parties” and charging no more than $25 each. And there is earlier precedent for avoiding an elaborate celebration, with Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Pierce and Warren Harding requesting no balls at all.

President Harry Truman revived the official ball in 1949, and organizers for President Dwight Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1953 added a second event due to great demand for tickets. Eisenhower doubled the celebration to four balls in 1957.

Given the state of the economy, this sees like the politically smart move.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Franklin says:

    I concur.

  2. john personna says:

    Good decision by the Pres, but

    “Personal Income in Nov rose .6% m/o/m, twice expectations while Spending was up .4%,”

    … we now return you to regular OTB programming

  3. michael reynolds says:

    So you’re accusing Obama of cutting American balls? Do I have that right?

  4. grumpy realist says:

    Counting the number of seconds before Erickson or another wingnut accuses President Obama for not respecting the Presidency enough….1…2…3…

  5. lankyloo says:

    Given the state of the economy, this sees like the politically smart move.

    I have full faith and confidence that some of the worst of the right-wing commentariat will still find this to be the most offensive thing ever.

  6. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @lankyloo: If he *really* cared about economic stimulus, he would allow the private sector to stimulate the economy by sponsoring their own balls. Instead, he’s single-handedly destroying small business owners such as caterers, valets, private security firms, and party planners, by denying them access to additional revenues which they could have used to hire their 50th full time employee and fully participate in ObamaCare!

  7. Rob in CT says:

    He’s throwing TWO of these LAVISH celebrations, while ordinary Americans struggle in the OBAMA ECONOMY? Why, it’s OUTRAGEOUS!

    [/likely wingnut response]

  8. David says:

    @michael reynolds: you win the Internet today.

  9. michael reynolds says:

    Yay me!

  10. lankyloo says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Nailed it!