Sometimes you think Washington is the most wonderful place to live in the world. Exciting, energetic, fascinating, the power capital of the world.
Other times you think it's not a very nice city.
This is one of the other times.
This is one of the times when Washington as President Carter's minister said, performs a public execution. And everyone gathers ad in "Tale of Two Cities," to stand and pretend not to watch as yet another head rolls to the ground.
Bert and LaBelle Lance were the first victims of this administration to participate in the age old ritual. And it was not a pretty sight.
It has nothing to do with the guilt or innocence. That's not the point. Whether it's Richard Nixon's fall, or Wilbur Mills' or Wayne Hays,' its never a pretty sight.
Seeing LaBelle Lance standing in front of her newly rented Georgetown house yesterday evening, bravely controlling a quivering voice and reasserting her faith in God, in Christ, in her husband, in her country and - most heartbreaking - in the press one couldn't help but think back almost a year ago to when Bert Lance was named the first Cabinet officer by Jimmy Carter. First to come, first to go.
"I know all of you are anxiously awaiting something from my husband," she said. "The President read his letter and we consider that his statement. But consequently, I asked if I could make one in the name of faith."
At first her voice trembled and there was a moment when it was not certain she wouldn't break down. But as she spoke, particularly about her faith, her voice became firmer and stronger.
"I've been telling all of you that when this is over, I would speak," she said. "I would like to tell you that I still rest according to God's purpose. I did not have anything to do with the resignation. As far as I'm concerned, I didn't feel my husband had to resign . I still feel he could take a job anywhere. He's honest, he's good and I'm proud of him.
"And I'm proud of you," she said, "and I hope someday, somewhere you'll want him or some other good businessman back in your government."
When they came to town, Bert and LaBelle Lance were everywhere. She was very Southern and chatty and optimistic and religious, he was open and easy and gregarious. Socially, he would be the Henry Kissinger of this administration, Hamilton Jordan predicted. She would be the new Washington hostess, everyone from Atlanta said. She started a prayer group. He worked 16 hours a day. They both gave interviews and their number available and they answered their own phone.
She decorated her new house in baby blue, with wall-to-wall carpeting and surrounded herself with her beloved butterflies. She talked about her house in Atlanta, "Butterfly Manna," because it was like a gift from heaven.
She wrote religious poetry and had it published. She believed and said often that God never gave anyone a burden he or she could not handle.
And then came the investigation, the hearings, the testimony and finally the resignation.
God, it seemed, had given them their burden. But even now, LaBelle was demonstrating that no matter how hard it was, she could handle it.
Bert Lance and his wife had met with the President for 45 minutes yesterday afternoon while Lance submitted his resignation. She had come home early, before the crowds began to gather. He had arrived later, quietly walking up the other side of the street alone, taking the press by surprise and slipping into his house without making a statement. Together, the Lances watched President Carter read Lance's resignation on television, then answer questions.
While this was going on the press began to hordes in front of their house on the corner of Dumbarton and 31st in Georgetown. The press had gathered in front of this house for statements many times before when former Miss America Yolande Fox and Algerian Ambassador Cherif Guellal lived there.
There was still no stirring from inside as the number of people outside mounted to several hundred.
"Here for the death watch?" asked one reporter of another. "I feel like a ghoul. This is the worst part of this business. I hate being here."
"Think they'll come out and make a statement?"
"I wouldn't, would you?"
Kids on skateboards in prep school T-shirts played up and down the streets, aware of the excitement, having heard about it over the dinner table. Ladies, passing by after an afternoon shopping, stopped and rested their expensive bags on the ground and stared. Mothers with babies on their shoulders stood around and gossiped. Several passers-by asked questions, then murmured comments like, "Poor people, I feel sorry for them. Why can't the press leave them alone?"
Groups of three reporters took turns going to the front door of the Lance's house to knock or ring the bell. Nobody really wanted to.
A postman tried in vain to deliver a registered letter but there was no answer. He shrugged and left it anyway.
Cigarette butts, empty filmrolls, an old dog-eared copy of "Passages" discarded earlier by one of the crowd littered the sidewalk outside the house. Metro buses went by, filled with people on their way home from work. The buses slowed as they eased through crowds and the riders gawked through the windows.
Then the door opened and Mrs. Lance appeared. Dressed in a pale blue ultra-suede dress, her dark hair pulled back from her face, her cheeks slightly roughed, she smiled.
"I'm ready to give ya'll a statement. How about that?" she said and walked down to the middle of the steps, waiting so that everyone could get cameras, microphones, taperecorders and notebooks in position before she began.
Pleading with reporters to leave them alone afterwards, she said she had decided to make a statement so reporters could go and "we can enjoy each other."
She made her statement as bystanders crowded closer to try hear her soft, lilting Southern accent, which suddenly seemed out of place in front of all the cameras and microphones.
"We're all citizens together," she said, as though talking to the people in the streets as wll, "and I want to know God's hand is over this country and I'm proud to be servant of God. And as long as I can walk in the light of Christ, I have faith that He puts me where He wants me. And my husband shares that same faith. And we're proud still to be Americans."
She begged off answering questions, saying that "I don't how to answer questions like the men.
But when asked what their plans would be, she said, "I think we'll go home to Georgia. I hope God will send me back for awhile. I want to see my children."
Quietly she turned and walked up the stairs, disappearing into her house, while outside, in front of the Lances' house, in the cool autumnal evening the last fuschia blossoms from a graceful Tree of Heaven dropped to the ground.