Inauguration: unprecedented twin drama
"This is the only time a twin star, or binary event has occurred at an inauguration. I can't think of any parallel.There is no precedent for such a blaze of drama for a departing president like Carter's. Usually all an ex-president has to do is pack up and ride to the inauguration. John Adams just quietly returned to Boston."
This is how Harvard historian Frank Friedel characterizes an inauguration that combines the drama and solemnity inherent in a change of administrations with the outpouring of national emotion over the outgoing President's resolution of a 14-month international crisis.
The hostage episode itself, after its emotional and media crest has passed, will not likely leave any lingering bitterness among the public. Although the amount of attention it consumed during the past 14 months -- its domination of te news -- was remarkable, it will likely be more a "Mayaguez"-sized event, observes Everett Ladd, an opinion expert.
"It's impact will be relatively small in its bearing of the standing of the country," Mr. Ladd says, "unlike Vietnam policy or World War II China policy. After the communist victory in China, recriminations persisted."
The Reagan team is expected to take advantage of the euphoria over the hostage release to keep the transition slate clean and not antagonize the Democrats by recrimination or by prodding Republicans in Congress to demand an investigation.
"The months ahead into the summer are very precious for this administration, as for any new administration," says Friedel.
The new administration will try to keep its honeymoon period going as long as it can, husbanding its initial goodwill with Congress and the public to get its ambitious economic program enacted.
Reagan's economic challenge looks even tougher at his inauguration hour than when he won the election. Aides say the worsening economic picture only makes passage of the Reagan package of tax cuts, budget cuts, and regulatory reforms the more urgent.
Reagan domestic adviser Martin Anderson observes, "You've had a serious deterioration of the economy" since the Reagan plan was initially outlined last September in Chicago. That plan was based on late-August 1980 economic forecasts for the next four or five years.
"The problems for Reagan are mind- blowing," says the usually cautious-speaking economist Rudolf Penner, budget specialist for the American Enterprise Institute. "Spending is $25 billion higher than when Reagan made up his economic plan during the campaign." Mr. Penner questions whether the public and Congress are ready for the budget cuts Reagan envisions.
With such domestic obstacles, Reagan aides want to avoid any distraction or turbulence on Capitol Hill over the hostages. They are aware how short-lived any benefit from something like the hostage episode can be for a president. Mr. Carter was catapulted beyond reach of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's nomination challenge in November 1979. Then the public's rally-round-the flag sentiment was reflected in a 66-to-22 percent positive/negative approval rating of his handling of the Iran crisis.
But by April 1980, more disapproved than approved of the Carter White House's performance on Iran. And his rating turned more sharply negative right up to the election.
Reagan and his men have carefully avoided any upstaging of Carter over the hostage events, despite having to share the coveted spotlight during one of the costliest and snazziest limousine-and-fur inauguration fests ever seen in Washington.
Reagan's own almost casual preparations for the White House, in contrast to the late- hour business of his aides, suggests he will suffer little stage fright at assuming his biggest public role.
"Reagan, having been governor of California and run so long for the presidency, is not going to be nervous or frightened when he goes to his White House quarters," Friedel says.
"Anyone who has run for the presidency has to have confidence," Friedel says.
"The only person slightly frightened was Franklin D. Roosevelt," Friedel says of fledgling presidents. "But FDR was in a state of euphoria, too. He took his responsibilities extremely seriously, as did Carter and as does Reagan."
FDR shortly recovered from his initial fright at entering his White House quarters alone, when he reportedly asked his brother to pray for him, and launched 100 days of initiatives -- with zest and courage t hat Reagan today openly admires and hopes to equal.