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The Snoring-In Ceremony

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 16 1997; Page B01

Even President Clinton concedes his second inauguration isn't as exciting as his first one in 1993.

"It is true that our first inaugural was a very unique and exciting time for our country," Clinton said in a written response to questions. "I don't know if we can recapture that same excitement."

A first inauguration is like a wedding: filled with promise and a kind of innocence. The second is more like a wedding anniversary a few years later: You're still together, hopefully in love, but you've discovered all those annoying little habits -- eating pretzels in bed, hoarding piles of old newspapers, inviting donors to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. The honeymoon, as they say, is over.

"By definition, second inaugurals have a lowered anticipation level," says special events planner Carolyn Peachey. Yet Peachey explains that part of the problem is a narrow Washington mind-set. "As a town, Washington is very jaded. We view a president's inaugural in political terms. The reality is that everyone outside the Beltway views it as a very important, patriotic occasion."

Indeed, the relentlessly optimistic co-chair of the Presidential Inaugural Committee bridles at talk of sluggish ticket sales and unreserved hotel rooms. "All I can tell you, from what people are telling us, there has been terrific excitement," said Terry McAuliffe.

McAuliffe is exactly the type of guy you want beating the drums for a second inauguration.

"I don't think a second inauguration should just be about celebrating an election victory," he continued. "Everybody's entitled to celebrate the first election. The second inaugural is about his or her legacy and how that president will be remembered." A successful inauguration, he says, "sets the tone for the second four years."

That means smoothing out the rough edges of a first term -- Whitewater, Paula Jones, Travelgate and accusations of illegal contributions to Clinton's reelection campaign -- and starting the second term with an eye to history. Thus the inescapable theme of Clinton's campaign and inauguration: "Building a Bridge to the 21st Century."

"We wanted it smaller, less elaborate, a little more dignified," said Harold Ickes, who is coordinating the inauguration from the White House. "There's not the unbridled excitement there was in 1993, but I think there is a sense of satisfaction."

The centerpiece of any inauguration, of course, is the oath of office and the president's address. "The swearing-in is a truly memorable and wonderful event," said Robert Barnett, Washington lawyer and longtime Democrat. "I'll never forget the first one I went to in 1972, and I'm taking my daughter to this year's in the hopes that it will be a memorable moment for her."

But that's only the beginning: Organizers have also planned a free, public exhibition on the Mall this weekend, full of music, interactive technology, children's entertainers and "great thinkers" thinking deep thoughts about the future of the country. There will be a Presidential Gala, 14 official balls and a $30 million price tag that will be "fully disclosed."

"I think the first rule of this inauguration is no mistakes," Ickes said. "Two is to have it less elaborate, if you will, than the one in 1993. Three is to focus, to the extent possible, on American families and the future."

It is not a coincidence, therefore, that the president agreed to play himself in a CBS movie, "A Child's Wish," which prominently features the Family and Medical Leave Act. Nor is it a coincidence that Clinton appears in the film comforting a sick child, or that the show will air Jan. 21, one night after the inauguration.

The president was very involved in the plans for the inauguration and is said to be pleased with the mix of thoughtfulness and play, of past and future.

"The major events reflect that balance," Clinton said. "From the Gala and events on the Mall that are more celebratory to the sense of seriousness and purpose that surrounds the oath of office I will take on Monday."

Clinton has been reading past second-inauguration addresses, according to White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry, "to see how incumbent presidents upon reinauguration have done the rerun -- how do you do a rerun and make it exciting?"

The president already has one idea, according to his written response: "This year, we have something very different and probably more significant to celebrate: We charted that new course and it worked."

Mike Deaver, for one, is not impressed. But then, one wouldn't expect the Republican spinmeister to look kindly on these festivities. "It appears we're in for another star-studded celebratory gala," Deaver wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. "But is this the appropriate tone for this particular inauguration?"

Not according to the chairman of Ronald Reagan's second inauguration. "I don't mean to sound sanctimonious," Deaver wrote -- a sure sign that what's coming is exactly that. Deaver admitted there was a time when he never missed a GOP victory party, then went on to suggest that Clinton (if he really wants to make history) should take the oath of office but skip the traditional lunch with Congress, forget the parade and balls, roll up his sleeves and meet with the Republican leadership instead.

Reagan, it should be noted, attended the congressional lunch, the parade and 10 balls for his second inauguration.

Perhaps better than any other president, Reagan understood the drama of the moment. On the day of his first inauguration in 1981, he took the oath of office as American hostages were finally released from Iran. In 1985, Reagan proposed just a simple swearing-in ceremony. But his aides pressed for more, saying his supporters needed another party, and the president relented.

The 1981 inauguration ended up costing $16.3 million. There were morning coats, minks, private jets and limos jammed wing-to-wing and bumper-to-bumper. The nine balls were white tie. It was nouveau riche, opulent, the polar opposite of Jimmy Carter's $3.5 million hoedown four years before.

The second inauguration was supposed to be different. Nancy Reagan had weathered criticisms about her clothes, her White House china, her redecorating. But there was a lingering sense that the White House cared too much for the haves and not enough for the have-nots, a perception that organizers of the 1985 inauguration were determined to avoid. "There were a lot of things that were not done well four years ago," said chairman Ron Walker at the time.

The 1985 inauguration had a new, egalitarian theme: "We the People . . . An American Celebration." Nancy's California friends hid out in the Jockey Club. "Frankly, the Reagan people have been burned by all the criticism about their friends, so they are trying to keep it quiet this year," said television personality Nancy Dickerson.

But the 1985 budget of $12 million grew to $20 million. There were two galas instead of one, albeit with less highbrow entertainment. The 10 balls were black tie and Reagan spent the night promising his guests good economic news.

Reagan's home state was not impressed. "Love may be lovelier the second time around, but presidential inaugurals generally are not," said the Los Angeles Times. "This year's inaugural parties seemed sluggish and spiritless, not to mention troublesome to attend."

In the end, all anyone remembers about Reagan's second inauguration was the weather. The president took the oath of office in a private ceremony because Jan. 20 fell on a Sunday that year. The official public ceremony was scheduled for Monday, when the temperature dropped to a record low of 7 degrees. Reagan moved the ceremony inside the Capitol and canceled the parade.

"The only thing that was exciting about the second Reagan inaugural was that the weather forced us to move it inside," says Sheila Tate, former press secretary to Nancy Reagan. "We had that esprit de corps that comes from getting through the snow to a party."

Even that failed to save the day. Tate went to the California ball, but it was so awful she left before the Reagans even arrived. The Clinton inauguration is not faring much better in her eyes. "No one's talking about it," she says. "I think you're moving against the tide to try to make something interesting that isn't."

Clinton, like Reagan and Nixon, breezed through an easy campaign to reelection. But any incumbent carries four years of baggage to the inaugural festivities.

In 1973, Richard Nixon was carrying Vietnam, Pentagon Papers, a controversial China policy and the growing Watergate story. As he scrambled to announce a cease-fire before the second inauguration in 1973, Nixon was criticized for his isolation and lack of moral leadership.

The theme of his first inauguration had been "Forward Together." By 1973, the theme was "The Spirit of '76" and the focus was on the people. "An inaugural for an American president can no longer be thought of as a white-tie affair, a posh private party catering only to dignitaries," said J. Willard Marriott, hotel-chain founder and chairman of both of Nixon's inaugurations. "The inaugural is a celebration of the people, for the people. It should be solemn and festive, but for everyone."

The emphasis changed from "class" to "middle-class," although the $2.7 million budget from 1969 ballooned to $4 million in 1973. The balls went from white tie to black, and the entertainers were selected for their popular appeal.

"We want the 1973 inaugural to be more than a `party,' " Kimball C. Firestone, chairman of the balls, told reporters. "We want it to be a celebration of the American system and of the diversity of American experience. Thus we have added not only an event designed to appeal to youth, but also one spotlighting the contributions of ethnic and minority groups."

None of it helped. There were mass demonstrations on inauguration day.

And, of course, the final indignity: At Nixon's request, the inaugural committee spent $13,000 to smear Roost No More, a chemical bird repellent, on tree branches along the parade route to deter pigeons. Roost No More was supposed to create an itching sensation on their feet. Unfortunately, the birds ate the stuff, which dotted Pennsylvania Avenue with sick and dead pigeons.

Maybe this time, the pigeons will just look bored.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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