Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The fasinating thing about the presidency is that there is truly a special aura that goes with the office. Wednesday night, Jimmy Carter was not the President and that aura was missing.
Not that there wasn't a sense of anticipation of his impending presidency or the proper amount of dignity on his part or the part of the 1,500 or so assembled at the inaugural gala; it was just that the special tingle that goes up and sown your spine when they announce "Ladies and Gentlemen. the President of the United States" wasn't there.
After noon Thursday, it would be.
For one thing President-elect and Mrs. Carter, daughter Amy, and official members of the family arrived on time and sat patiently in the Presidential Box at the Opera House in the Kennedy Center while ice and traffic-bound latecomers straggled into their seats for nearly 15 minutes.
The President-elect and his family seemed starstruck, gazing excitedly round the Opera House to see who was there. And to lend even more of an atmosphere of informality. Amy, all dressed up to beat the band, acted like any normal nine-year-old who had to sit through a three-hour performance. At one point during an especially moving standing ovation to the Alvin Ailey troupe when all eyes were upon the Carters, Amy tapped her mother on the shoulder and whispered something in her ear.
The gala was billed as the event to attend Wednesday night, and indeed nothing could have been more entertaining than the show itself, but the fun part was watching members of the audience and the excited if a little terrified performers themselves.
Sitting in the boxes surrounding the President-elect and his family were members of the Cabinet-to-be and their wives, plus Walter Cronkite: Sen. Hubert H. Humphrey: the ubiquitous ambassador of Iran, Ardeshir Zahedi: Carter advertising man Gerald Rafshoon: and Mayor and Mrs. Walter Washington.
In the audience were Lauren Bacall, looking radiant, with Carter polister Pat Caddell and his date. Hugh Hefner's daughter Christie. Only a few rows down were former Beatle John Lennon and Yoko Ono looking very much like a staid middle-aged married couple. Tucked away over on one of the side aisles in a simple, gray business suite was Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine, a onetime presidential candidate himself. And almost unnoticed in the back row were rock singer Gregg Allman and his wife, Cher. Interestingly there wasn't a Kennedy in sight.
The invitations said black tie optional, and even until the last minute Carter had not decided what to wear. But he finally chose black tie and a simple white-pleaded shirt as did most of those who occupied the boxes.
Mrs. Carter wore an understated evening dress with a long-sleeve black top, white skirt and red satin belt. Carter seemed to be generally enjoying himself the whole time and almost never stopped smiling. He laughed and waved and clapped to most of the performers while Mrs. Carter in contrast seemed much more solemn.
Amy crawled around the Presidential Box. The only time Mrs. Carter seemed to geninely let go was when Mike Nichols and Elaine May did a satrical skit about a Jewish mother of a President kvetching at her son. And members of the family seemed to be teasing her while the skit was going on.
After the intermission, Amy disppeared.She had obviously had it. But the Carters stayed on and even stood up and clapped when Aretha Franklin bid them to during one of her more rousing numbers.
There was no royal feeling Wednesday night and perhaps that accounted for some people murmuring aloud that they didn't get "that special feeling or excitement" from actually being there the way they thought they would, despite the fabulous show.
But that was because there wasn't a President in the audience Wednesday night. As Carter stood up to leave after the performance, those members of the audience directly beneath him waved and screamed and called out "Hi Jimmy, and he returned to the edge of the balcony to wave down and a most try to reach them with his hand.
If he had been President Wednesday night, it probably wouldn't have happened.
Because Thursday he would become the 39th President of the United States and Presidents don't arrive until everyone else is seated.