Some days are better than others, for presidents as well as people. Today's New Year's holiday promised to be one of the finest days along this presidential journey. All the elements were right.
An oppressive sense of security and official intransigence has been present in both Poland and Iran during President Carter's stays there. Personal searches, guards patrolling the hotel corridors, peremtory restrictions, a feeling of being herded, and displays of military might were common in each country. Undoubtedly contributing to the bleak and forbiddling atmosphere was the miserable weather - dank and raw in Warsaw, grey and polluted in Tehran.
Today's trip to India then came as welcome relief.
Airport arrivals for political figures, particularly heads of state, usually vary little: The standard salutes, the required responses, the formal departure, but Jimmy Carter's arrival in India came in marked contrast to the others on this trip.
It was notably civil, relaxed in tone, even benign. There was an appealing absence of the heavy hand of security. You simply strolled from your plane's final resting place over to where the official greeting ceremony had been staged. No herding, no orders, no searches. A tent, brightly colored in green, yellow, blue and red shielded the traveling Americans and watching Indians from the warm sunshine. Waiters in green coats offered tea. Potted plants, placed in rows off to the side, provided a bright and attractive touch.
Clear skies, fresh air, friendly faces; warmth; all around good omens for Jimmy Carter.
The same sense of goodwill and welcome change continued to be felt as the President's motorcade headed out from the airport into the city.
Throngs lined the route all the way from the airport to the Ramlila grounds. The reception was friendly and warm throughout.
At the meeting site, a huge area about the size of two football fields. Jimmy Carter faced one of the largest crowds he's ever encountered. They were sitting, stretched out before him, covering acre after acre.
For a political leader, it was a splendid opportunity. Carter's first gesture brought an enthusiastic mass response. He merely stepped to the fron of a Victorian-style pavillion and raised his right arm high. The crowd instantly responded with applause and cheers.
Whatever the seasons, however, Jimmy Carter's words clearly did not stir that throng. His first remark fell flat. "Hello everybody, happy New Year," he said. Hardly a stir. An interpreter repeater the words and still without much effect.
With one exception, the rest of his words also fell flat. The one spontaneous burst of emotion came when he referred to his mother and her work in India as a Peace Corps volunteer. His mother loved them, he said, and the crowd roared and waved.
Perhaps it was his delivery, perhaps the audience had difficulty hearing all he had to say, perhaps a lot of things but that Carter speech - essentially a homily on civics, filled wish moral and religious allusions and restating of basic human rights almost entirely failed to move that audience. He got either tepid applause, or none.
When asked about his reaction to his welcome in India, Jimmy Carter pronounced it "beautiful." From a human standpoint, it certainly was better than the rest in his swift but exhausting trip, but it also certainly could have been better.