They are not our king and queen. There is nothing royal or imperial about them.
He signs his name "Jimmy."
They refuse to ride in a limousine, and ride instead to their own inaugural events in a mustard-colored Lincoln.
She wears her unfashionable 6-year-old evening dress from his gubernatorial inaugural ball for "sentimental reasons."
He wears a clip-on bow tie.
They walk from the Capitol to the White House.
Amy skips from the Capitol to the White House. Amy yawns at the inaugural ball, sits on the edge of the platform, punches her mother during ceremonies and squirms a lot when she gets bored.
When he arrives at the inaugural balls, they don't play "Hail to the Chief." No ruffles and flourishes. They play his campaign song, "Why Not The Best."
They call them inaugural parties something less grand than a ball.
They have a "People's Inaugural" and invite everyone in the country to come to Washington .
They pray openly and talk about Christ.
He carries his own luggage.
They hold hands in public, touch each other often, even kiss a lot. Really kiss.
Their families are real. Some of them drink too much, are too loud, act silly, squabble and ask other famous people for their autographs.
They are just like you and me.
And they are not ashamed.
In fact, Carter like many Southerners, and like many military men understands only too well the power of symbols, has felt their importance in his own life.He knows what image he wants to project. He knews that four years ago when he first started running for President. He let Rosalynn wear polyester dresses, let Miss Lilian criticize him for talking too much about "love," let Billy keep drinking beer at the gas station, let Amy sell her lemonade at any price she wanted. It was human, real, unaffected, simple, American.
Not that the image is anything but true. Only that he has shrewdly manipulated what he has going for him into a winner. Now he must decide whether, as President, it will still work for him.
A lot of Americans - not only those who live here in Washington - are torn between their true feelings and what they think they ought to be feeling.
They feel that they should be thrilled with a President who is a man of the people, who is so natural, so open. Yet too, Americans have always had a sense of longing - however misplaced - for the royalty that they never had. There is something about wanting to look up to someone. They like kings and queens, or at least the aura of titles of importance.
Jack and Jackie gave Americans that sense of royalty in spades. People loved to know what she was wearing who was being invited to the initimate little soirees in Georgetown, who pushed whom into the pool. There was a "court" and ladies-in-waiting and Jackie went to India, and Jack escorted her to Paris and she wore Givenchy dresses and Halston pillbox hats and they were soooooo glamorous, like movie stars and it was all thrilling. And even now her picture on a cover sells magazines. And when Jack was shot someone wrote, "Jackie Kennedy gave his country the majesty it never had."
Once the Johnsons got in office they picked it up rather quickly. The Nixons of course, overdid it, but even good ole Betty and Jer enjoyed the ceremony, the limousines, the trapping of power. And "the people" loved it.
He was their President and it was their White House and they wanted to be proud.
When Queen Elizabeth came over last summer, remember how crazy everybody went?
People stood in line for hours in the streets to get a glimpse of her. Even at the British Embassy at a white-tie dinner for a select group of important Washingtonians, diplomats and socialites were knocking each other over and standing on chairs to see the queen.
Kings and queens, that's what the people want. They want to see them, they want to touch them, to be around them, to take their pictures, to read about them, to gossip about them.
At the inaugural parties Thursday night they came to see Jimmy and Rosalynn. What they saw was themselves - a touching picture of a happy American couple out for a night of celebration. Rosalynn and Jimmy looked for all the world like a newly wed couple celebrating their marriage. She, radiant and secure - she'd got her man; he, flushed and excited and possibly a little edgy about his new responsibilities. They danced a little shyly and held on to each other for dear life. They were in his together. The people identified with them.
There was no way to look at them and not feel good, not feel moved by their own sense ofjoy . . .
But the people also came to see their President. Their leader. And they screamed and sobbed and smiled and cheered and grasped and pushed to see him or touch him. At that moment he was not one of them.Somehow, with his taking of that simple oath he had become something else, something different.
The Carter's seem reluctant to assume the mantle of office, the aura of the presidency. They seem determined to reject the trappings. They wanted the office more than anything in the world, yet now they seem hesitant to fully accept the role they sought.
At the inaugural parties Thursday night "the people" also came ot see stars, celebrities, big shots, the powerful and the important. There were very few. There were just "people" who had paid $25 to get in. And so they were disappointed. What's glamorous or exciting about "people?"
They couldn't go home and say they saw anybody famous. They just saw Jimmy and Rosalyn. It was indeed like having been to a family wedding. They came away feeling sentimental and warm . . . but not exhilarated.
Americans are autograph-seekers they like their stars. And while they like reading the human things about them that they can identify with, they still like to keep them at a distance. They liked to think Clark Gable was wonderful and sexy; they didn't want to know he wore false teeth, or that Alan Ladd had too short, or that Dean Connery wears a toupee. They are titillated but at the same time disillusioned. The stars know that. And so they try to present to the public the most glamourous private lives as well as public lives. They know how to make up, to make an entrance, to give their fans what they want.
At the Inaugural Gala Wednesday night stars poured in from around the country to the Kennedy Center to perform for their new president-to-be. Most of them were people who had refused to perform or campaign for Jimmy Carter the candidate. Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicholson, Bette Davis, John Wayne, Paul Simon, Loretta Lynn, Aretha Franklin, Beverly Sills, Micke Nichols, Elaine May, Linda Ronstadt, Redd Foxx, Muhammad Ali, Jean Stapleton, Shirley MacLaine and others came to Washingto because they had been asked to perform for the President-elect. Now that was something else. It was the office they were responding to, as well as, or in some cases, rather than the man.
During rehearsals they were tired and bored with all the waiting, frustrated with the snafus. And most were scared to death to perform, not in front of Jimmy Carter but before the next President.
"Even if they inaugurate a Jewish president next time I'm not going to go through this again," laughed a tired Beverly Sills.
And she joked with Bette Davis about her new diet. "It's times like this that make me wonder why we ever do these things," sighed Davis, sitting backstage on a packing crate. "I remember doing it for the Kennedy and getting caught in the snowstorm in traffic and not being able to change and staying up until 3 at the party afterwards. But they were so beautiful, those Kennedys. And they stayed up till 3 too."
She spotted John Wayne in the crowd and jumped up. "Now it's my turn to be a fan," she said excitedly and rushed over to Wayne to say, "I've never met you before and I'm your great fan."
"The hell ya haven't," chortled Wayne, glowing with Bette Davis' compliment and then not remembering where, if ever, they had met.
Mike Nichols and Elaine May were teasing Warren Beatty about not mispronouncing Aretha Franklin's first name during the introductions; Jack Nicholson and Jean Stapleton couldn't read their cue cards, and during the grand finale Leonard Bernstein went crazy at the disorganization and screamed. "For God's sakes this is mad. Will somebody tell us what to do?"
But finally, when the snow did begin, they timed their entrances perfectly, wore the right clothes and performed with style. They were stars, they knew it, they understood what their public wanted of them, wanted them to be, and they gave it to them.
The social scene in Washington will be interesting to watch. This inaugural week has been the first time that "the Carter people" have met the Washington people, and it has left everyone somewhat relieved if a little confused about what to expect in the future.
People are still feeling each other out. Georgians, other Southerners and new Carter people in general find Washingtonians much nicer and friendlier than they had expected. They're still afraid of "the Press" and they say, "don't quote me" a lot at private parties. They're nervous about what to wear, apprehensive about being caught up in a phony social whirl and slightly defensive and reporters on the make for a story.
Thus far, the Carter people seem pleased and flattered to be invited to some of the better parties in town, like the Averell Harriman's Thursday night.
Washingtonians are indeed on the make, not only to pepper their salons with Carter insiders but also to develop sources for their stories. They are not used to such openness, natural friendliness and gaiety, and they view it with amazement, pleasure and sort of veiled suspicion. The Carter people have yet to develop the proper cynicism.
Ironically, perhaps this new form of Carter-inspired naturalness, this anti-snobbism, may spawn an even newer form of snobbism. Rather than announce proudly to one's friends that one has attended a glamorous black-tie, celebrity-studded dinner, it will be even more fashionable to say, "Jody (Ham) came over for dinner last night and we had hamburgers in the kitchen."
Some Washingtonians are uneasy about the lack of discrimination among some of the Carter people. If everybody gets invited, the theory goes, it's not special and therefore it's not worth going to. At the Philip Alstons' big buffet at the Sulgrave Club Thursday night there were nearly 300 people wo came both from Georgia and from inside Washington. One woman arrived, looked around in dismay and remarked, "I thought this was going to be a seated dinner for just a few people," and left shortly thereafter for another, more intimate party.
Almost nobody among the Washington insiders went on the inaugural parties, a nightmare of traffic jams and hot crowded rooms; they chose instead to watch them on TV.
And one partygoer was reminded of her favorite Inaugural Ball comment made some years ago by Lorraine Cooper, wife of then-Kentucky Sen. John Sherman Cooper. "Me go to an inaugural ball," shuddered Mrs. Cooper. "The last inaugural ball I ever went to was when I got home and found a footprint on the back of my Balenciaga."
The day he left Plains to come to Washington for his inaugural, Jimmy Carter said, "I think I have a chance to be a great President . . . if I can stay close to the people."
The question is . . . can he?