In his first speech to his fellow Americans as president of the United States, Ronald Reagan delivered a subdued, evocative version of the same basic message which elected him, the same creed which he hopes will motivate his administration.
"With all the creative energy at our command, let us begin an era of national renewal," Reagan declared, words which echoed the nationally televised speech he gave on election eve. "Let us renew our determination, our courage and our strength. And let us renew our faith and hope. We have every right to dream heroic dreams."
As the new chief executive of the federal government, President Reagan enunciated again the central theme of his political career, as if to reaffirm his sincerity. His purpose in office, like his political speeches for 30 years, will be to rein in that government, to reduce its size and to curb its influence over everyday American life. It is in everyday America, not in the government in Washington, where Reagan sees the strength of the nation.
The notion that America can be as great as Americans want it to be was the most effective theme of Reagan's presidential campaign. In the Reagan view, it contrasted, sharply and successfully, with Jimmy Carter's talk of self-sacrifice and a "national malaise."
As Reagan sees it, the answer to dwindling resources and a sinking economy is not acceptance of some kind of era of limits but, rather a committment to robust economic growth as in America's past.
How will he accomplish this restoration of "a healthy, vigorous, growing economy that provides equal opportunities for all Americans"? Reagan's answer is the same he gave throughout the 1980 campaign, the same one he has been giving ever since his speeches for General Electric in the 1950s -- reduce the cost and growth of government so individual enterprise can flourish."
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem," Reagan said. "Government is the problem."
The Inaugural Address was vintage Reagan, of the sort the new president first shared with millions of Americans in a famous nationally televised speech for Republican presidential nominee Barry Goldwater on Oct. 27, 1964.
". . . Outside of its legitimate function, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private section of the economy," Reagan said then. It was a sentence which would have fitted comfortably into yesterday's address.
More than anything, that "legitimate function" as Reagan sees it, is the role the American founders indentified as "providing for the common defense."
On this issue Reagan's speech differed notably from the one he gave for Goldwater and from many of his more bellicose campaign declarations in the early reaches of the 1980 campaign.
While Reagan said, predictably, that the United States would not "surrender" to advance the cause of peace, the foreign policy sections of his inaugural were notably and deliberately nonbelligerent. On the day of his inauguration, at least, Ronald Reagan's chief reliance was on moral fiber instead of multiple warheads.
"Above all we must realize that no arsenal and no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women," Reagan said. "It is a weapon our adversaries in today's world do not have. It is a weapon that we as Americans do have."
In the manner of presidents being inaugurated, Reagan paid proper and patriotic tribute to those who had forged America's freedom. But Reagan issued no call for any worldwide imposition of American doctrines. Rather, he seemed to be saying the United States could best serve the cause of freedom by giving an example of others to follow.
"And as we renew ourselves here in our own land, we will be seen as having greater strength throughout the world," Reagan said. "We will again be the exampler of freedom and a beacon of hope for those who do not now have freedom."
Reagan rarely gives a speech without recalling the deed of some American hero who sacrificed for his country. Yesterday, he introduced a panoply of heroes -- working men and women, entrepreneurs, the television audience and those assembled in front of the West Front of the Capitol -- and paid special tribute to the three presidents memorialized in monuments visible from the inaugural stands, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
But Reagan's special hero yesterday was one Martin Treptow "who left his job in a smalltown barber shop in 1917 to go to France with the famed Rainbow Division." Reagan said Treptow was killed by artillery fire while trying to deliver a message between battalions and lies buried in Arlington Cemetery. The Associated Press reported later that Treptow was killed by machine gun fire and is buried now in Bloomer, Wis., where the American Legion post bears his name.
A Reagan press aide said the new president heard of Trebtow in a letter sent him by a private citizen. But in the confusion of moving to the White House yesterday, the letter could not be found.
Reagan is a practiced performer whose voice will artfully catch and sometimes break when he tells an emotional story of heroism. This happened yesterday as he told of Treptow's diary, found on his body after he was killed in action.
Under the heading "my pledge," Treptow had written: "America must win this war. Therefore I will work, I will save, I will sacrafice, I will endure, I will fight cheerfully and do my utmost, as if the issue of the whole struggle depended on me alone."
It is not too much to say that Reagan is fascinated with heroes, and with the theme of heroism. In his election-eve speech Reagan took issue with the idea, which he took from a newspaper headline, that his old friend, the late John Wayne, was "the last American hero."
Heroes abound, Reagan contends. Usually, the heroes he cites are American patriots, or soldiers, or prisnors of war. Today he expanded the theme to include the everday Americans who expect the Reagan administration to reduce the burdens of government. These everday Americans were depicted as having the qualities of Treptow even though, said Reagan, they will not even be called upon to make they same kind of sacrifice.
As inaugural speeches go, Reagan's message was a prescriptive one, particularly on domestic policy. The source of America's ills to Reagan clearly is the size of the government over which he now presides. The source of America's greatness, as Reagan sees it, lies in the character of ordinary Americans and in prayers to God, which Reagan said would be a "fitting and good" way to begin each inaugural day.
There was an unintended irony in the inaugural message yesterday. This was a paraphrase of Winston Churchhill in which Reagan said he did not take the oath of office "with the intention of presiding over the dissolution of the world's strongest economy."
Churchill, after World War II, declared he had not become prime minister of Britian to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.But that empire was substantially dismembered during Churchill's term of office despite the vows of Britian's most famous leader.