This is how we lose a word. The word “emergency” became meaningless today:
President Bush on Tuesday declared the District a federal emergency area, clearing the way for the city to receive federal money to help cover the overwhelming cost of providing security for official inauguration events.
Officials said it was the first time the designation had ever been used for anything other than a national disaster, such as a hurricane or widespread flooding. . .
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said Tuesday night that D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty had requested the declaration of the city as an emergency zone last week.
Preliminary planning for the inauguration had not taken into account the likelihood of unprecedented crowds, now expected to run as high as 1.5 million to 2 million people, Mr. Stanzel said.
(Via the Corner.)
The unremitting assault on the lexicon continues.
POSTSCRIPT: They had not taken into account the likelihood of unprecedented crowds? Either that’s an outright lie, or they’re completely incompetent, since people have been predicting huge crowds for months. Last November, the predictions were as high as 5 million, more than twice what they’re now talking about.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn writes:
“I don’t know if anybody’s ever done that,” said Dana Perino, the White House press secretary.
Indeed. One reason why nobody’s ever done that before is because a presidential inauguration is not (to be boringly technical about it) an “emergency.” It’s penciled in well in advance – in this case, so well in advance that for years Democrats have been driving around with “1-20-09” bumper stickers on the back of their Priuses. Emergency-wise, that’s the equivalent of Hurricane Dan Rather wrapped around a lamppost in his sou’wester, hanging there in eager anticipation every night for half a decade. . .
The proposition that a new federal administration is itself a federal emergency is almost too perfect an emblem of American government in the 21st century. FEMA was created in the 1970s initially to coordinate the emergency response to catastrophic events such as a nuclear attack. But there weren’t a lot of those even in the Carter years, so, as is the way with bureaucracies, FEMA just growed like Topsy. In his first year in office, Bill Clinton declared a then-record-setting 58 federal emergencies. By the end of the Nineties, Mother Nature was finding it hard to come up with a meteorological phenomenon that didn’t qualify as a federal emergency: Heavy rain in the Midwest? Call FEMA! Light snow in Vermont? FEMA! Fifty-seven under cloudy skies in California? Let those FEMA trailers roll!