"We have all the troublemakers in one place," said an anonymous voice in the receiving line.
"You mean all the problem-solvers, don't you?" replied an equally anonymous voice, as the line moved slowly forward to shake hands with former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and transitional Secretary of State Edmund Muskie. Whatever they called themselves, the upper echelons of the State Department turned out in force, after regular office hours yesterday, for a reception in the John Quincy Adams State Drawing Room at the State Department honoring Vance and his wife, Gay.
Vance and Muskie stood side by side, buffered only by Mrs. Vance between them, shaking hands as though they were running for office. Muskie's handshakes were more vigorous -- those of an experienced politician, with a left-hand action that would grasp the victim's elbow and then leap to his shoulder while the right was pumping his hand. Perhaps that was what President Carter meant in May when he said that Muskie was "much stronger and more statesmanlike" than his predecessor in the State Department.
Yesterday the motif was low-key, very much in the style of Vance. With all the battles ended and all passion spent, everyone was saying nice things about everyone else -- though Muskie was the butt of several jokes, including his own.
"For the first time in 35 years," he said, "the voters of the United States have given me complete freedom of choice." He smiled, looking not at all like a man who faces imminent unemployment. He described Vance as a quiet man who "has always managed to deflect the spotlight -- a skill I never learned."
"Under Cy," he said, "the lights in the State Department often burned late. His were always the latest -- and, I understand, often later than mine."
President Carter picked up the motif, perhaps a shade less vigorously and more diplomatically, echoing his much-publicized previous comparison. "Ever since I appointed Ed Muskie," he said, "he's been trying to act more statesmanlike than Cy. I can't say he's succeeded."
"I'm very proud to have served with Cy Vance," he said. "He was the one cabinet officer about whom there was no debate, this time four years ago, when he was suggested. 'The best man you can get,' they told me, and they were right."
Vance's remarks were a model of diplomatic prose -- positive and predictable: ". . . a joyful and deeply touching and moving occasion for Gay and me . . . It was a great privilege to have been chosen by the president to serve with him . . . I am proud and honored."
He said that Muskie "has made a great contribution over many years, and I was overjoyed that Ed was the secretary of state who followed me when I left the department."
The occasion was a reception to dedicate an antique chest of drawers, built in Philadelphia around 1770, which will be kept on display in the Adams Room in memory of Mr. and Mrs. Vance. Funds for it were raised by their friends and colleagues in the State Department. As he unveiled the piece, Muskie said that it reminded him of the Vances: "Like them, it is marked with an air of traditional restraint and balance; like them, it is solid and useful, and like them, it is irreplaceable."