By Alex Berger
The two presidential candidates weren't so dumb after all. They stood on their records so the voters could not examine them. And their sincerity was most sincere, whether they meant it or not.Nonetheless, I hope you all recovered from the bare-knuckled, let-it-all-hang-out, presidential slugfest. I know it left Gloria and me Kerry-ied and Bushed. Now we can relax and await that solemn quadrennial event – the presidential inauguration on Jan. 20.”I want to know how and when these presidential inaugurations began,” a reader wisely asked.For more than 200 years, despite bitter and hard-fought political campaigns, Americans have always enjoyed open elections that allowed the smooth and peaceful transfer (or continuation) of presidential power in the White House. This is our democratic form of government.In an inauguration ceremony, the president-elect (or re-elected president) takes the oath of office prescribed in the Constitution and thus, officially, assumes the responsibility of the office of the presidency of the United States.It was in New York City, our nation's first capital, that George Washington became our first president. Congress initially had planned for the new government to begin on March 4, 1789, but a harsh winter made travel difficult. It wasn't until April 6 that enough congressmen (sans congresswomen) arrived to count the electors' votes and announce: “Whereby it appears that George Washington, Esq. was unanimously elected president – and John Adams, Esq. was duly elected vice president of America.”The first inauguration day, April 30, began with the sounds of ceremonial artillery and church bells ringing across the city, not unlike the sounds of the moans of the Democrats' when Bush was re-elected. Both houses of Congress were assembled for the swearing-in.George Washington, with his right hand on a Bible (Oy, gevalt! What would the advocates for separation of church and state say about that?), repeated the words inscribed in the Constitution: “I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute (no, not the president, the office) of the president of the United States and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” President Washington added the words, “So help me God” (Oy, gevalt, again), a custom followed by every president since.This first inauguration gave rise to many traditions that continue today. President Washington followed his swearing-in with an inaugural address (no, not the White House's address), written for the occasion. For Washington's second administration, the oath of office was administered by an associate justice of the Supreme Court, the first in a long line of Supreme Court justices to preside over the presidential inaugurations. Wouldn't it be keen if Howard Dean were chosen to do the swearing in?Thomas Jefferson (third president) was the first to be sworn in as president in Washington, D.C., the location chosen to be the permanent capital and the site of all but a handful of inaugural ceremonies. After his second inauguration, Jefferson rode on horseback from the Capitol to the President's House (the name then used for the White House) amid music and a spontaneous gathering of well-wishers – a procession that grew into today's inaugural parade.In 1817, James Monroe (the fifth president) became the first to give an inaugural address to an assembled public crowd. Since that time, the traditional inaugural address has been an opportunity for the president to speak directly to the American people.Presidents have celebrated their inaugurations in many ways since George Washington danced the minuet after his inauguration. In 1789, James Madison (fourth president) and his wife Dolly, were the guests of honor at the first official inauguration ball. Martin Van Buren's (eighth president) inauguration featured two balls, and President William Henry Harrison (ninth president) held three to meet the ever-growing demand for tickets. Later inaugurations have featured specially built pavilions for dancing at balls held at several sites throughout the capital, and even inaugural parties in other cities.Modern inaugural festivities reflect not only the president they honor, but also the desire to include the many Americans who want to take part in celebrating our nation's rich history of transfer (or continuation) of presidential power.Scoop! I just learned that at George W.'s inaugural ball, W. plans to do the Texas two-step with Hillary.I also learned that many rich, but not-so-famous G.O.P.ers, anxious to attend Dubya's second inauguration, are paying up to $1 million for a hotel suite, and every conceivable luxury. A package for two in the nation's capital includes a private jet to whisk a couple of Bush devotees from their nearest hometown airport to Washington D.C. At their disposal will be a limo driver and massage therapist, in-suite hairdressers and make-up artists, on 24-hour call.The couple will also be fitted for a his-and-hers, inaugural-designed, tuxedo and gown outfit, Louis Vuitton luggage, matching gold and “presidential” Rolex watches, plus a matching Tiffany necklace bracelet and earrings for her. In addition, there is a champagne-and-beluga caviar reception, a nightly private dinner before bedtime, and, of course, tickets to the inaugural events. I guess Michael Moore and Whoopi Goldberg won't be attending this gala affair.For an economy rate of $100,000, there is another deal offering a four-day package – a tour of D.C, in-suite massages, and ball tickets. Hmm. I wonder if there is a bargain rate of $50 (half-off with coupon) for Gloria and me? No! Then we aren't going. I guess we will just have to watch the event on television.Another scoop! After George W., (our 43rd president) is sworn in, he is prepared to say, “Hillary, before this great assemblage, I do hereby swear that as president, I will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend your toes once we two-step at my second inaugural. So help me God.”I bet Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, and the Dixie Chicks will not be part of the entertainment.In closing, let me remind you never to worry about election results. In 100 years, there will be all new people.Reach columnist Alex Berger at timesledger @aol.com or call 718-229-0300. Ext. 140.