When Richard Nixon took office four years ago, the old National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam planned a demonstration to greet him. They didn't expect it to be very big, since most people at the time felt that a new President--presumably not responsible for the acts of a previous Administration--deserved a day of National Unity. The organizers were right: the demonstration was as small as they expected.
The new President, on his part, also seemed to like the idea of reconciliation. In his Inaugural Address, he spoke of "bringing the country together," of giving Blacks and Spanish-speaking people a better chance, of ending a divisive War.
Four years later, the mood had changed. Richard Nixon wasn't a "new" President--he was responsible for what had gone on over the last four years. Moreover, the country didn't seem to be in such a conciliatory mood. Although Nixon appeared to be a "consenous" President--having won over 60 per cent of the vote as opposed to 43 per cent in 1968--the position of the country that had voted against him seemed to like him even less than it had when he defeated Hubert Humphrey. So it shouldn't have been surprising that 100,000 people--many more than anticipated--came to this year's "counter inaugural."
Nixon himself had changed, too. After 20 years of personal political struggle, including two defeats at the polls, he would never have to face the electorate again. The man who had so long been called a "loser" had won the greatest electoral college victory since FDR's sweep in 1936. He didn't have to conciliate anyone anymore. He could talk tough, and he did.
So the mood in Washington on January 20th was far different than that which had marked most Inaugurations. Certainly it was far removed from that hopeful day in 1961 when Robert Frost read for tried to read) poetry, and John Kennedy called upon Americans to join him in "a struggle against the common enemies of man poverty tyranny, disease, and war itself" Nixon knew the country wasn't united in a common struggle for anything Not did he think it should be, Each American he said, should begin to think again about "what can I do for myself.
The two sides which had gathered in Washington that weekend shared certain things in common Both sides prayed. Both sides listened to music and speeches. Both froze in the raw weather which seemed to have descended upon Washington in their honor.
For Nixonian Washington, the weekend began on Thursday. The first event on the calendar was a reception for Vice President Agnew at the Smithsonian Institution. The affair lasted four hours, with four different groups allotted an hour each to see the man who might become their President four years hence. Later that night, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts housed a Salute to the States, in honor of the nation's Governors.
The next afternoon featured a new event, a "Salute to America's Heritage." It was conceived, said the official program, "to pay tribute to the many minority and ethnic groups who have contributed to America's cultural tradition."
On Friday night the Nixonites gathered in three concert halls at the Kennedy Center to hear "American music," "Youth Music," and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture The Tchaikovsky concert was the first of the weekend's big social events, and all the big Republicans were there. Martha Mitchell signed autographs and talked to reporters as her husband looked on nervously: Bob Hope smiled past the crowd gathered outside as did John Connelly, Henry Kissinger, Elliot Richardson and Ronald Reagan. The President went in through a side entrance.
ON THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN, at the Washington Cathedral, Washington's "other half" was gathering for the first time. Leonard Bernstein, the man who had opened the Kennedy Center with his own Mass was conducting Haydn's Mass in Time of War for the weekend's "Inauguration of Conscience."
The weather was unseasonably warm that night; it would get colder later. More than 11,000 people attended the concert, four-fifth's of whom listened to the music through loudspeakers outside of the Cathedral. The concert was scheduled for 9:00 p.m. At three o'clock that day, the first arrival began his afternoon vigil. Four and one-half hours, eleven postcards and a finished journal later, he moved into the Cathedral, along with three thousand others.
Like Nixon's Inauguration, the concert was exceptionally well organized. As the thousands of people stood in line before each entrance, a voice over the loudspeaker made announcements and give directions. He conversed in a manner reminiscent of Woodstock.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have run out of programs. We printed 10,000 and they are all gone (cheers and applause) So please share yours with the person next to you. Thank you."
And later, when the crowds began to move into the Cathedral.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we would like to get all of you inside but we can't, so be patient, we're moving into the chapel for 'Phase Three.'"