Vice President Walter Mondale invited me and my money over for drinks last night at the Crilon Hotel.
It was difficult to strike a frugal note amidst the gilded crystal chandeliers, thick carpets and well-groomed waiters of the Crillon. But the new Vice President gave it a good try by setting up a pay-for-your-own drinks bar for a reception of French and American journalists.
Mondale had been reaching out for such symbols of relative austerity on his first globe-circling mission for the Carter administration, which appears eager to emphasize its break with the often imperial style of travel adopted by high officials of previous administrations.
"It's my own feeling about how these things should be done," Mondale said as he mingled easily with journalists, embassy staff members and French foreign ministry officials. He then added:
"Why, sometimes they flew one whole plane around that carried nothing but telephones, and they flew those automobiles everywhere. We're saving thousands of dollars and I feel perfectly safe."
Gone are the two bullet-proof limousines that Henry Kissinger and Nelson Rockefeller hauled around with them on previous trips. Security is much less oppressive with Mondale, who spent 20 minutes today chatting with American grammar school pupils on the sidewalk near the embassy, which is just across the street from the Crillon.
Mondale is having to get along with the bullet-proof limousines his hosts normally use, and this is expected to cut the minimum $1 million dollars a day American officials estimate it took to keep Rockefeller on the road during his trip to Europe last year.
When Kissinger stopped over in a French coastal resort last August for 36 hours to visit a friend, the cost of the stopover and the idling of the 22 aircraft crew members, 34 security agents for Kissinger and his wife and four communications experts, plus Kissinger's own staff, was put at a minimum of $400,000 by an American source with access to the figures.
This time, strict orders came from Washington to embassies along Mondale's route that there were to be no well-stocked bars or elaborate floral displays in the rooms reserved for the traveling party.
Even more insistent were instructions that Mondale's hosts were to understand that there would be no gifts exchanged. The only exception was a compromise worked out with Pope Paul VI, who was allowed to bestow a papal medal on Mondale. In return, Mondale gave the Pope a commemorative medal of President Carter's inauguration.
The actual amount of savings for taxpayers is still not clear. Some of the expenditures cut out of the travel budget will instead be picked up by embassies, making Mondale's balance sheet look better but not changing much in the big picture.
Getting the 100 journalists to pay for their own booze at the Crillon shaved $1,500 off the trip's expenses, Mondale aides proudly let it be know. Kissinger never socialized with reporters who were not traveling with him and to a great extent dependent on his version of the business he was conducting.
Among the guests at the Crillon was Pierre Salinger, John F. Kennedy's press secretary and now an occasional columnist for a Paris weekly news magazine. Salinger is reliably reported to be on the list of names submitted to President Carter for the post of Ambassador to France.
Among other names that have reportedly been discussed in the White House are former Undersecretary of State George W. Ball. Chase Manhattan Bank Chairman David Rockefeller, who reportedly is not interested in the job, and Atlanta Coca Cola executive J. Paul Austin.