WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Reagan funeral is just a plus for the Bush re-election campaign. Wednesday was a day of patriotism with marching military units and screeching jets and the repeated singing of “God Bless America”—the anthem of the Reagan era. Wednesday’s ceremonies were not only face-saving for the current administration, but also perhaps a mask for the American military debacle in Iraq. Not to mention a gesture of America’s might in the “war on terror.” Snipers lined the rooftops and Black Hawk choppers protected from above. Above all else, this was free campaign advertising (though costing taxpayers millions of dollars), and it’s dominating every TV network.
Although this is supposed to be a state funeral, likened to those for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Abraham Lincoln, there was not a Democrat to be heard, as of Wednesday night. The service at the Capitol featured lackluster GOP congressional leaders Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, and Ted Stevens, the Senate’s president pro tem. The focus was not Nancy Reagan, but Dick Cheney, seldom seen among the general public but front and center this week. He set the patriotic tone with a “fellow Americans” talk that was easily the only bearable speech of the day. Cheney was at his best—direct, plain-spoken, escorting Nancy to the coffin for yet another goodbye that was clearly intended to be the most spectacular, but ended up somehow forlorn. Cheney’s the president in all but name. But at least that meant we were spared the frat-boy stylings of Bush Junior, who was sequestered under heavy guard at the G-8 meeting in Sea Island, Georgia.
Friday’s pageant at the National Cathedral sounds more like one of the city’s political-conservative dinners than a state funeral, with Bush Junior joining his dad and Margaret Thatcher in delivering eulogies. Conservatives were chortling over the Drudge Report item that Bill Clinton was miffed at being left off the list of speakers.
As campaign advertising, Reagan’s funeral is unparalleled. A D.C. official told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday that the district had already incurred $2.3 million in expenses for employees in police, transit, public works, and other departments. While it’s hard to gauge exactly what the week’s events will cost the public, you can get a rough idea by looking at the cost to the government of shutting down for one day of snow: $66 million. The federal work force shuts down completely on Friday and was on liberal leave Wednesday, with people going home in the early afternoon. The L.A. Times noted that a day’s payroll expense for the entire federal workforce is $423 million, and Friday’s state holiday for the California government will run an estimated $58.9 million. And this doesn’t include the costs to other local governments, not to mention the expense of hauling Reagan’s body back and forth across the country on government planes—and other incidentals, such as the F-15 flyover during the procession to the Capitol.
By the way, the funeral is taking place on the eve of Bush Senior’s 80th birthday, which he will celebrate by making a solo parachute jump on Sunday. The World War II pilot, who himself had to bail out of his plane, will be surrounded by members of the Golden Knights, the Army parachute team. But as a sign of his derring-do, Bush will not be linked to a younger jumper. “This is very, very important thing to the president,” Jim McGrath, spokesman for the organizing committee, told the Washington Times. “This is a solo jump. There will be knights around him, but it is not a tandem jump.”
A funeral for one GOP ex-president. A solo parachute jump by another. All this on TV with few Democrats in sight. You can’t buy that kind of publicity.