An unpretentious country boy named Carter has been going to great lengths to get a message across to the world.
He carries his own luggage, plans to take phone calls from ordinary citizens, frowns on limousines for public servants, and wants to revise the stuffed shirt protocol that has heretofore marked state occasions.
His name was Jimmy before he was selected President, and his name is still Jimmy now. Most Americans wish him well in his move to tear down the wall between the ruler and the ruled.
We respect the office of President. We respect it so much that perhaps we helped bring on the "imperial presidency" that almost got out of hand.
Now Jimmy Carter has sensed the need for clear signals that the President and his people are one again. What's more, he wants foreign governments to understand the signals, too.
So, as the President of the United States greets the President of Mexico, there are no trumpeters, no flag-bearers, no spear-carriers. Instead of reciting the formal greetings written out for heads of state, President Carter just grins, sticks out his mitt and says, "Hi, everybody."
There is no color guard as the two Presidents descend the grand staircase at the White House. No band plays "Ruffles and Flourishes." There's just a plain "How Y'all?" country greeting that's too warm and genuine not to be appropriate, even on a state occasion.
I like what Mr. Carter is doing. Democracy's basic strength is its ability to involve every citizen in the nation's business - to remind him that he's one of the bosses, and he has the responsibilities that go with being a boss. What Jimmy Carter says to us as he restores communication between the people and their President is, "Hey, friend, you're one of the owners of this joint venture. You've got to tell me how you want it operated."
That's good, and I hope Mr. Carter continues to try to get every American "involved" again. However, I'd like to make one small suggestion, if I may. I'd like to suggest that he restore "Ruffles and Flourishes" to official ceremonies.
Every citizen's spine tingles a little when he hears the National Anthem, or sees the flag pass by. We get a little misty-eyed when we see the Capitol dome bathed in light at night. The message from these symbols is the same one Mr. Carter has been sending us: "Hey, friend - you're one of the owners of this country. We need your help in running it." The sound of "Ruffles and Flourishes" has the same effect on me.
It tells me that the President of the United States - the President of my United States, by heaven - is about to make an entrance, and as the symbol of and spokesman for all of us, he should be greeted with respect.
Once we proffer the President our respectful attention, I think it is in perfect harmony with the democratic tradition for him to respond modestly and informally. He can say "Hi, everybody," or anything else one partner might say to another, and in so doing he can make it clear that he disavows ostentation.
What we want, I think, is a man deserving of the defence due a sovereign, but wise enough not to succumb to the notion that he is a sovereign.
To date, Mr. Carter fits that role well. I think that if we can trust him to keep a level head after a chorus of "Hail to the Chief," we can trust him with "Ruffles and Flourishes" as well.
After all, Mr. President, how long do four ruffles and flourishes take - eight seconds? Ten, perhaps. Let's put them back where they belong, as a preface to "Hail to the Chief," and let's let every American's heart beat just a little bit faster as his President approaches.
If the trumpets and the drumbeats were a symbol of obeisance, Mr. President, we would be well rid of them. But they are not. They are a symbol of our national unity, and therefore not something to be put aside lightly.