Jimmy Carter promised he would be different, and on his inaugural a solemn, short speech, understated in tone and in stated promise, he set out on his own and walked his way to the White House.
The sight of the new President strolling down Pennsylvania Avenue hand-in-hand with his wife and daughter Amy was one Washington has never seen before. It was the most dramatic of many memorable scenes that marked the nation's 48th inauguration.
Washington was full of symbolism yesterday as Carter came to power. There was "Daddy" King, standing where his slain son had delivered his speech on the Lincoln Memorial steps, paying emotional tribute to a white man from rural Georgia. There was the way Carter began his presidency by reaching out to salute his predecessor, Gerald R. Ford, "for all he had done to heal our land." THere was the amiable tone, the spirit of goodwill coming in such contrast to goodwill coming in such contrast to the immediate presidential past, that Ford himself set as he greeted political foes and friends on the presidential pavilion at the Capitol. There was the weather, sparkling and fresh, with not a trace of snow or new arctic blasts sweeping the capital.
But what undoubedly will be most remembered about Jimmy Carter's inauguration was that long walk from the Capitol to the executive mansion. It took him 40 minutes to cover the mile-and-a-half. As he walked along, with Amy prancing, jumping and dancing along at his side, he was shattering recent presidential practice and legend - the idea that a President must be remote and removed from the people.
He had decided on the walk three weeks ago, he said as he was entering the White House shortly before 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon. The Secret Service had been informed, but no one else. And he had enjoyed the stroll, he said; it had capped what he described as "perfect day."
Then Jimmy Carter, 52, of Plains, Ga., went inside the White House as America's 39th President.He was "going to have a look around," he said, standing in the doorway, for he had "never seen it."
After that, he called the first meeting of his new Cabinet and went to work before the round of parties held throughout Washington in his honor last night.
Jimmy Carter's message to his country, and the world, was something like a sermon. He took as his biblical text an admonition from the prophet Micah. When his presidency has ended, he said from the steps of the Capitol, he hopes it will be said "that we had remembered the words of Micah and renewed our search for humility, mercy and justice."
Carter's inaugural address was delivered in firm, even tones to a vast crowd that filled the Capitol Plaza under cloudless skies and bright sunshine, moments after he had taken the oath of office at 12:30 p.m. It was intended to be, in his own terms, "a speech of sober optimism." That it was.
His theme was a restatement of America'a traditional ideals. "I have no new dream to set forth today," he said, "but rather urge a fresh faith in the old dream."
And the essence of his message was in urging the nation to learn the lessons from "our recent mistakes."
"We have learned that 'more' is not necessarily 'better,'" he said, "that even our great nation has its recognized limits, and that we can neither answer all questions nor solve all problems. We cannot afford to do everything, nor can we afford to lack boldness as we meet the future. So together, in a spirit of individual sacrifice, we must simply do our best."
That was Carter's theme during his presidential campaign, and the title of his autobiography, the story of one of the most unlikely political odysseys in this century Carter's speech was most warmly received when he referred to problems of the past - specifically Vietnam. "We will not behave in foreign places so as to violate our rules and standards here at home," he said at one point, "for we know that the trust which our nation earns is essential to our strength."
Loud cheers rang out across the Capitol grounds and across the street to the Supreme Court and Library of Congress when he promised to maintain "a quiet strength based not merely on the size of an arsenal, but on the nobility of ideas."
He received even greater applause when he added:
"We will fight our wars against poverty, ignorance and injustice, for those are the enemies against which our forces can be honorably marshaled."
Jimmy Carter did not directly address another "recent mistake." He didn't have to; the memories of the Richard Nixon years and of the Watergate impeachment drama were evoked in countless ways.
The invocation, by Bishop William Cannon of the United Methodist Church of Georgia, strongly warned against national arrogance, the tendency to play God, political corruption and the problems of democracy. The massed college choirs of blacks from Atlanta, gave a stirring rendition of a hymn containing the words "Don't scandalize my name." That phrase was repeated throughout the singing. And Gerald Ford, who took office 2 1/2 years ago when the presidency had sunk to its lowest point, lent symbolic and personal evidence to the improvement in public esteem since then.
Carter began his inaugural address with the words:
"For myself and for our nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land."
Then he reached over and shook hands with Ford.
It was Ford who added an easygoing manner to the ceremonies, so different from the stiff and somber presidential platform scenes of other years. Through an "open" microphone, millions Americans participating in the ceremonies through TV and radio had a chance to overhear the private conversation on the platform.
"Hello, Hubert," Ford said brightly to Hubert Humphrey, who like himself had suffered through a difficult vice presidential period and had known hard political defeat.
Turning to others, he continued the good-natured banter. "Hi, Cy, how are you?" he said to Cyrus Vance, the new Secretary of State. And: "Hi, Earl, good to see you." The "Earl," at the moment, remains unknown.
Humphrey and Ford talked warmly together, joking about the day and the crowd. When Humphrey's protege, Walter F. (Fritz) Mondale incoming Vice President moved onto the stage. Ford immediately turned to him and continued the conversation.
"I'm feeling fine," Mondale replied, somewhat gravely.
Ford referred to Mondale's trip to meet foreign leaders this weekend. He hoped Mondale had a great time, Ford said. Give them his best; they were good people. Then lightly: "Can you sleep on a plane?" Mondale answered: "I'm going to find out." Ford broke out in laughter.
Seconds later he grew serious and solemn as the Marine Band, which has performed at every inauguration since Jefferson's, struck up the strains of "The Navy Hymm." It was the signal for Carter's arrival. He walked slowly down the steps to take his place alongside the man he had narrowly defeated, where only 30,000 votes cast electoral college. Each man seemed lost in his own thoughts as they stood, silently, side by side.
But Ford is not by nature a silent person. He began the small talk again. It was Jerry and Jimmy.
"Great crowd out there," says Jerry, in his last moments as President. "It really is," says Jimmy, just about to assume power.
Jimmy Carter's inaugural was like that. It was serious and light, formal and informal. He took the oath of office with his hand on a Bible given to him by his mother, "Miss Lillian," who stood off to the side watching intently, her white hair whipped by the 15-mile-an-hour winds. Also used in the ceremony was another Bible - and a reminder of the historic link that marks the passing of presidential power at inaugurations.
"Here before me is the Bible used in the inauguration of our first President in 1789," Carter said, soon after he began his address.
His wife, Rossalynn, held Carter's Bible. And Carter, whose full name is James Earl Carter Jr., added another presidential first when he took the formal oath as "Jimmy." The oath was administered by Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, whose snow-white hair contrasted sharply with his official black robes of office.
Let it also be recorded that immediately after Burger introduced Carter to the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] formality, by saying, "Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States," a child's voice piped out out loudly on the platform.
"Hi, Jimmy," the child called.
The sound of cannon booming out the first formal salute to the new Presidential again brought the ceremony back to a reminder of its serious purpose.
Jimmy Carter said of his inauguration yesterday that "it marks a new beginning, a new dedication within our government, and a new spirit among us all."
Whether that proves to be the judgment on his administration remains to be seen. But clearly that closing scene at the Capitol yesterday displayed the most harmonious transfer of presidential power in memory. If any bitterness were present, it could not be detected. It was, at the end, an affectionate hail and farewell.
When The National Anthem was being sung all the principals joined in - Happy and Nelson Rockefeller, Betty and Jerry Ford, Rosalynn and Jimmy Carter, Joan and Fritz Mondale, Miss Lillian and the rest of the family. Then they stood together, congratulating one another, saying good-byes and extending good wishes. It seemed entirely genuine and sincere.
Ford and Rockefeller, who came to office, unelected, under extraordinary circumstances, were, in all likelihood, ending their long political careers. Jimmy Carter, the one-term governor and peanut farmer from Georgia, was preparing to lead America into its third century. They all appeared to wish each other well.
Jerry Ford, a private citizen for the first time in a generation, waited as Jimmy Carter left the platform amid the trappings of his office - fanfare and trumpets and a long black limousine flying the American and presidential style.
He got out of the limousine and walked his way into history. Like his inauguration, it was all quite simple.