“We be big pimpin', spendin' cheese. We be big pimpin' on B-L-A-Ds...,” rapper Jay-Z rhymed in his 2000 hit song “Big Pimpin.” Who knew that nine years later the song's hook about “spendin' cheese,” i.e. “chedda” or “dolla-bills y'all,” could very well be used as the theme for Barack Obama's inauguration. The historic swearing in of the first Black president is being celebrated with five days' worth of activities estimated to cost over $150 million despite the country being in an economic crisis.
Many believe the significance of Obama taking office justifies the inaugural price tag and it is easy to imagine them joining Jay-Z in his chorus, “We be big pimpin', spendin' cheese. We be big pimpin' on B-L-A-Ds...,” B-L-A-Ds being the 20-inch tire rims found on the rides of those who like to show off their status with the wheel accessories; each one costing thousands of dollars. Obama may not be big pimpin on those rims but he turned many heads during his Jan. 17 Philadelphia-to-D.C.-Big Pimpin Express train ride to Washington. Huge crowds of people were seen waving as the train made it's way down the east coast stopping in several cities where Obama made brief speeches, casting out more of the promises made during his campaign. Similarly, Jay-Z's Big Pimpin' video has the rapper casting dolla-bills out to throngs of people as he's standing atop an expensive yacht.
Unlike Jay-Z, who spends his own cheese when big pimpin', taxpayers will primarily cover Obama's inaugural costs; along with the near $30-40 million given by private donors, including many celebrities and corporate business executives. Plus, outgoing President George W. Bush declared the inauguration a “national emergency” so that federal emergency funds, which otherwise would be used (and may be in demand later) for natural or other disasters, could be released to help cover the millions needed to pay for adequate security. Initial estimates suggested that up to five million people would descend on the nation's capital Jan. 20 to see Obama sworn-in but that number has been reduced to 2-3 million.
In some ways the number of singers, actors, rappers and “big names” who plan to attend activities make the event seem like another Hollywood production or awards show. Even Entertainment Tonight, the entertainment world's number one TV gossip source, will be on hand to give a run down of who appeared with whom, what they were wearing and who should be crowned “best/worst dressed.” Of course, there is also the lengthy list of parties going on in addition to the 10 official inaugural balls the Obamas are scheduled to attend. Jay-Z even has his own concert scheduled, “An Evening with Jay-Z,” with admission tickets ranging from $100-500. Guess what his opening song will be?
After Bush's 2005 inauguration, critics suggested the millions spent would have been better used to help victims of the Indonesian tsunami which devastated that nation in late December 2004; killing nearly 200,000 and leaving the country in much need of international help.
Four years later, some are questioning this year's display of inaugural excess, i.e. “big pimpin,” during the time of America's budget, economic and housing crises. Such unnecessary expense, critics say, is completely out of place given the increasing number of companies filing bankruptcy or shutting down and leaving thousands across the country unemployed. Not to mention that states like California are requesting financial assistance from Washington; the same kind given to banking institutions in last year's “bailout plan.” Other states, like Colorado, are asking government employees to take time off without pay to help cut down on expenses yet Obama is riding into the White House on the promise of “change” but little change is apparent in the inaugural process.
What “change” it would have been if the incoming president had ditched the grand plans typically followed by those entering the White House and instead said, “The new first family wants to set the tone and example in these trying economic times and we've decided to have a simple swearing-in ceremony followed by an afternoon of feeding D.C.'s homeless population.” The homeless who, by the way, reportedly have been removed (i.e., cleared out), from the vicinity of the White House, Capital, and National Mall in preparation for the 'big event.' Could they not also benefit from Obama's inaugural message? Maybe not since the “poor” were rarely mentioned during the campaign.
The homeless were kicked to the curb to make room for the production featuring the Obamas, Hollywood, vendors looking to capitalize, and thousands of supporters from near and far coming to cheer on and witness history. During the days of celebration, concert promoters will also benefit by taking advantage of all the singers gathered together in one location, and bars/night clubs will also gain by being the places where the “elite and their hangers-on” will gather each night for the “A-lister” after parties; not to mention the numbers of expensive hotels in D.C. and surrounding areas that will be filled to capacity.
The country's collapsing economically and per the November words of Colin Powell a 'generated international crisis' is going to hit America on Jan. 21 or 22, (or within 6 months according to Joe Biden), nevertheless, “party on” and “big pimpin” seem to be the motto of the times. Maybe instead of a big celebration, Obama and Biden should be preparing the public for whatever it is they foresaw coming last fall. On the other hand, maybe the pair want to enjoy the cheers while they can, given this prediction Biden made weeks ago about how supporters would react to the Obama administration's moves: “….. r emember St. Peter denied Christ thrice ... We don’t need anybody denying us, this is gonna be tough. There are gonna be a lot of you who want to go ‘whoa, wait a minute, I don’t know about that decision......’ Because it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right…..”
Adeeba Folami is a freelance journalist residing in Denver, Colorado. She can be contacted via her website,