INAUGURATION '85. Reaganites kick up their cowboy-booted heels
PAGEANTRY, parties, pomp, and snowy circumstance marked President Reagan's inaugural weekend as Washington braced for one of the coldest public swearing-ins of recent history. Snowflakes and fireworks filled the sky from the opening ``prelude pageant'' on the Ellipse, and Sunday morning thick snow fell on the White House before Ronald Reagan was officially sworn in during a ``private'' ceremony Jan. 20, the date mandated by law. The public ceremony for the nation's 50th presidential inaugural takes place Monday, Jan. 21 at the West front of the Capitol in temperatures predicted to be in the teens.
But neither cold nor snow chilled the spirits of the thousands gathered for four days of a $12.5 million inaugural celebration which included: Roman candles; two star-studded entertainment galas (one for the president, one for the vice-president -- both edited into a televised, two-hour show Saturday night); a brace of special events for youth, ranging from a rock concert featuring Kool and the Gang to a leadership forum for young Americans; and a giddy round of private parties.
The festive atmosphere was underlined by a show of splendor among the Reagan-Bush supporters. Washington was clogged with silver and black stretched limousines, some rented from as far away as New York, with a tab of $400 a day. Some of the limo people flew in on corporate or private jets. At Saturday's gala, Mrs. Reagan wore a $3,000 scarlet silk designer gown, one of the most glittering outfits in an inaugural wardrobe that retail experts priced at $46,000. Washington was awash in mink, fox, lynx, and other furs, along with couture clothes and jewels to match.
In marked contrast to this display of wealth was a counter-inauguration march and prayer vigil led by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a former presidential candidate who led his Rainbow Coalition in a demonstration in front of the White House. He and his supporters chanted for ``jobs not bombs,'' called for the end of apartheid in South Africa, and protested the administration's budget cuts and its Central American policies. Mr. Jackson said in his speech: ``There are two Americas: one rich and getting richer, one poor and getting poorer.''
Jackson also criticized the lavishness of the inaugural and its parties, which ranged from a private bash given at the Italian embassy that included TV gala chairman Frank Sinatra, to a ``black tie and boots'' party thrown by the Texas State Society. While the band played ``The Yellow Rose of Texas'' and other Lone Star favorites, partygoers stomped the two-step across the dance floor or spooned into chili hotter than a Houston summer.
Cowboy hats and boots were de rigueur, like the black eel-skin boots worn by Joe Reich of Colorado Springs, Colo., or the brown leather mud-kickers worn by Dana Rohrabacher of Temucla, Calif. ``These boots have been used to ride horses, they're not liberal boots,'' said Mr. Rohrabacher, who wore a modified Stetson hat and happens to be a presidential speech writer. ``Republicans really know how to have fun; Republicans know how to let it all hang out,'' he said.
Carol Grisham, wearing a black cowboy hat with a pink-and-gold sequined cowboy shirt, said she'd just flown up for the Texas party for the day from Houston.
Many of the men at the Texas party were in red tie and cummerbund, ``an old Texas custom'' according to George Rodriguez of San Antonio. Mr. Rodriguez added: ``This is as close as you're going to get to heaven, with all these Texans, unless you're in Austin tonight.''
When their most famous Texan of all, Vice-President George Bush, appeared, the crowd went wild as he gave the ``hook 'em horns'' sign of Texas University. In a few minutes, a live $100,000 Texas long-horn bull snorted on stage and was donated by Mr. Bush to a hospital charity. It was the kind of party the Fortune 500 would relish. Indeed, Fortune magazine was there covering it.
The festive feeling carried over to the general public in this ``We the People . . . An American Celebration'' weekend.
``Look at that, it's incredible, it's gorgeous,'' Chuck Stoffel, a Commerce Department employee, told Monitor reporter Peter Grier as starbursts and Roman candles lit up the sky over the Washington Monument and the Mall Friday night. ``Am I glad I didn't stay late at the office and miss this!'' said Mr. Stoffel.
Mr. Grier's report continues: ``The fireworks were so close, black ash fell like dirty snow. The pageant itself, which President Reagan watched from a side-stage bullet-proof booth, was a sort of outdoor `Ed Sullivan Show.' There were big bands, solo flutists, tenors, and a youth chorus. Actor Fess Parker, the narrator, managed to describe 209 years of US history in half an hour. `It's all sort of Disneylandish, isn't it?' said one bystander.''
In contrast, Saturday night's gala was as sophisticated as a Las Vegas nightclub act, with headliners assembled by producer Frank Sinatra, including Pearl Bailey, Jimmy Stewart, the Beach Boys, Dean Martin, TV actors Tom Selleck and Mr. T., dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Rich Little.
Commedian Little's spoof musical number, ``The Ronnie Reagan Rag,'' broke up the President and Mrs. Reagan who sat laughing as Little did a deft imitation, then segued into impressions of other presidents. Imitating President Reagan, Little sang ``I got my Cabinet from Central Casting.''
The theme of the evening was a fervent patriotism. The gala began with a moppet in a blue velvet dress belting out ``The Star Spangled Banner'' a capella, then launched into Mac Davis singing ``I'm Proud to be an American,'' and concluded with Ray Charles leading an immense chorus in singing ``America the Beautiful.'' President Reagan ended the gala by reciting the words of ``My country 'tis of Thee.''
Sunday afternoon, after a thanksgiving prayer service at Washington Cathedral and the televised presidential swearing-in ceremony, the inaugural gala performers were feted at a special White House reception. 3 The media, 14,000 strong, had been required to fill out elaborate forms a month in advance for credentials to the inaugural events. But two days before credentials were to be issued, a spokesman for the credentials committee said that only ABC, the TV network broadcasting the galas, would be allowed inside the convention center. Mark Berry, assistant director of inaugural credentials, said initial plans to include the rest of the press were canceled ``because ABC bought the TV rights to both and closed it.'' Mr. Berry suggested the rest of the press might stand outside the hall in a ``paparazzi area.''
Journalistic watchdog Charles Peters, editor of The Washington Weekly, says ``ordinarily, I would be outraged at this, but since it's a purely entertainment event, I'm not outraged. The only kind of event that would be subject to this kind of thing is pure entertainment.'' Kay Evans, editor of The Washington Journalism review, says ``It seems to me an inauguration is a national event, an American event, and it's too bad to have it commercialized, to the point that not everybody can cover it.''
To defray the cost of the inaugural events, an unprecedented number of corporate sponsors has loaned or donated thousands of dollars to the committee, among them: General Motors, Hallmark Cards, Occidental Petroleum, Rockwell International, The Tobacco Institute, Eli Lilly & Co., BankAmerica Corporation, and the American Health Care Association.
The inaugural itself was commercialized by a carefully merchandized sales plan which included everything from the $200-apiece gala tickets, to inaugural committee ``commemoratives'' like the official inaugural nut mix including macadamias and cashews ($8 a package) and the Boehm presidential eagle of bisque porcelain ($1,750).
This year the inaugural committee even gets a substantial cut of the souvenir button business done by street vendors, who take a loss. Some of the buttons, which range in priceup to $5, bear pictures of Reagan and Bush and either blink with tiny red lights or play ``The Star Spangled Banner'' when pressed.