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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.'"
The crowd was a mixture of old and young, music connoisseur and protester (and both). The Cathedral filled up quickly as people poured through the different entrances. Organ music occasionally interrupted by Mr. Loudspeaker, filled the church. Inside the clergymen of the Cathedral, acting as Marshalls, quietly seated the crowds. The crowd applauded several times: when the National orchestra members entered and began to tune up: when Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass). Sargent Shriver, and Averell Harriman arrived; and finally when Francis B. Sayre, Jr., dean of the Washington Cathedral, walked to the pulpit.
"Deep down in everyone there is a searning for peace," he intoned in a rich, ecclesiastical voice. "It is this longing for peace which brought Leonard Bernstein. Eugene McCarthy, the singers, and all of you inside and outside to this performance tonight.
"Heal the angry wounds we anonymously inflict upon each other," he prayed over the thousands of bowed heads. He then introduced McCarthy, who spoke of the war and the peace movement, and recited some verse by Robert Lowell, including a poem entitled "This is the Country for the Young." He then introduced Leonard Bernstein.
Bernstein strode in to warm applause and immediately began conducting the mass. The music is a moving interplay of chorus and orchestra, ending with the words of the Agnus Dei, "grant us thy peace."
At the end of the forty-minute mass, the crowd rose up and gave Bernstein a standing ovation. The maestro embraced Sayre and McCarthy, and bowed again and again to the applauding audience. Then, as the voice over the loud speaker thanked everyone for coming, announcing Woodstock-like that there had not been one mishap, people began to file quietly outside into the night.
Tom Wolfe might have had a field day with the whole affair, but in this case, it seemed just as well that he hadn't shown up.
PRESIDENT NIXON and his staff are known for their love for punctuality (among other things). The scheduling for the Inauguration proved that once again. Nixon took his oath of office from his Chief Justice just a few seconds after the scheduled time of noon.
It had gotten a lot colder during the night and the Inauguration took place beneath a bleak, grey sky. A west to northwest wind, gusting up to 30 miles per hour, ripped across the grandstands and Presidential Pavillion at the Fast Portico of the Capitol. "This is just like a football game said a man with a blanket as he showed his passes to a policeman.
Police were everywhere; on the tops a buildings all over the streets, even on helicopters overhead. Security was something else that had changed since John Kennedy took the oath.
The arrival of a Crimson-clad Mamme Eisenhower accompanied by Julie Nixon Eisenhower signaled the beginning of the ceremonies shortly after 11:30 a.m. They were quickly followed by Iricia Nixon Cox, the Agnew family, and finally by Pat Nixon.
Nixon arrived at 11:40 p.m. to the sound of "Hail to the Chief." The color guard raised its flags to attention, dipped them at Nixon's arrival, and raised them again.
Sen. Marlow Cook (R-Kentucky), co-chairman of the Joint Congressional Inaugural Committee, began the ceremony by introducing Dr. E.V. Hill, president of the California Baptist Convention, who delivered the opening prayer.
"We thank I hee for this indication of Thy peace," he said. "Though we have sought peace, there is war. Though we have plenty, there is hunger."
Dr. Hill's prayer was followed by a musical interlude, and another prayer by Rabbi Seymour Siegel. At nine minutes to noon. Spiro Agnew took his oath, followed by another prayer, this one given by the primate of the Orthodox Church in America, to which Agnew once belonged.
As a prelude to Nixon's oath-taking, the choir of the combined service academics rendered "America the Beautiful," during which cadets and Midshipmen recited portions of the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.
Then Nixon was sworn in (his wife held the family Bibles open to Isaiah's "They shall beat their swords into plowshares" passage) and delivered his address. After declaring that an end was coming to "America's longest and most difficult war," and decrying the "condescending policies of paternalism," Nixon spoke to another theme with which he (and we) had grown familiar.
"At every turn," he said, "we have been beset by those who find everything wrong with America and little right with it. But I am confident that theirs will not be the judgement of history on these remarkable times in which we are privileged to live."
As he spoke, cries of "Stop the War" could be heard from demonstrators marching to the Washington Monument.
IT WAS COLD OUT, and different people coped with the elements as best they could. One group of anonymous bodies huddled together under an American flag. Another group tried to ignore the wind with a game of bridge. Near the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, a group made a bonfire in one of the wire trash-cans,fueling it with leaflets (of which there were many) and fence poets.
A man resembling a skinny Burl Ives pulled out his guitar, and began to sing an antiwar version of "Down by the Riverside." The crowd of people encircling him joined in the chorus, "I ain't gonna to study war no more..." He then veered to the original version, "I'm gonna kiss every doggone girl, down by the riverside," and proceeded to kiss and be kissed by every doggone man, woman and child around him. Nearby, a middle-aged couple carried a sign with the words BREAD NOT BOMBS, and handed out free chunks of home-made rye bread.
One group sat around a radio, listening to Nixon take the oath of office and give his Inaugural address.
As Nixon stated his "resolve to march forward," another group fell into the line of march.
It had all happened before, and this gathering around the Monument was not much different from the ones that had come before. True, the crowd was a little older, and bigger than it had been in quite a while. But the same songs were sung, the same speeches given, the same factionalism was present. An anti-war professor once told a Vietnam teach-in that "politics is the art of doing the same thing over and over again until it works." The crowd took him seriously, and why not? There seemed little else to do.
The factionalism was there with a vengeance. "Read this if you take your politics seriously," cried a vendor of "New Solidarity." The SDS contingent, denied a speaker on the podium, marched behind a yellow truck, determined to have its say. "We're in Washington fighting Nixon, not just mourning," someone said over the truck's loudspeaker. When the contingent got to the monument grounds, a speaker at the platform urged the crowd on his left to "sit down, lie down in front of that truck. Don't let them come through. We want this to be a non-violent protest don't we?" The crowd roared its approval, and the truck stayed where it was.
At one point in the afternoon, someone climbed up one of the flagpoles around the Washington Monument and tore down a flag. He was quickly followed by others, who tore down the remaining flags and set them afire amidst cheers. Some, seated closer to the speaker's platform, expressed their disapproval.
Throughout the afternoon, small groups of people left the rally to join the throng of 300,000 that had come to watch the Inaugural parade. Some cheered when Canada's float went by, and booed the military floats. Some threw eggs at the President as he passed (and missed). Most headed toward the buses which took them back to Michigan and Ohio and Massachusetts as official Washington prepared for the Inaugural Balls.
ONE HOUR AFTER the Swearing-In ceremonies ended, the Inaugural Parade began. Among the participants were four Pee-Wee football teams, all of which had won divisional championships. "We're marching behind the Texas float, 'The Winning Spirit,'" said Bob Lanham, the group's manager.
Nest the footballers was the Alexandria Friendship Fire Department float, which included a fire engine bought for thee city Alexandria by George Washington in 1774.
"The last time we marched was in 1889, the centennial of George Washington's first Inauguration," said George Knight, one of the firemen manning the float.
One of the flashier contingents was the Golden Spurs from Texas. The thirty-odd girls were decked out in short, fringed skirts, gold-speckled body shirts and red, white and blue "Nixon" banners. They saved red, white and blue pom-poms. "The Golden spurs were specifically invited by President Nixon to attend the Inaugural on a pre-election trip to Texas," intoned the man on the loudspeaker.
The parade--considerably shorter than in previous years--ended about two hours after it started, giving the 30,000 people privileged with invitations to the five Inaugural balls ample time to get ready.
Five balls were held that night. President Nixon danced at all five.
The Youth Ball took place in the same Sheraton Commander Hotel ballroom where the Democratic Credentials Committee had hassled several months earlier over Mayor Daly and California delegates.
It was a senior prom writ large. Dress was formal, the music was hard rock and soul, long hair was common. Hordes of Nixon youth crowded onto the dance floor beneath psychedelic lights and cheered for their President every once and a while. A few lonely folk roamed around looking for other lonely folk, but most had come with friends. Senator John Tower (R-Texas) signed autographs and accepted good words from young GOPers in the lobby.
The Hall of Flags at the Kennedy Center was decorated in white, yellow and green for the main ball. Among the orchestras were Lionel Hampton's and Guy Lombardo's, two of the President's favorites.
Like the Youth Ball, the Kennedy Center was jammed. "I love to dance, but there's no room," said one lady. "I'd done better if I'd stayed home than to come out here for this B.S.," said an official from the Laborer's International Union. "The worst goddamn mess I've ever seen in my life."
Most appeared to be happy, though, as they walked out with assorted souvenir'., including stacks of plastic cups embossed--with the Inaugural seal.
Marge Crerie of Fairfax, Va, got even more. "I danced with the President," she said. "I kissed him on the cheek and left a big lipstick mark. I kissed Pat Nixon, too, and told them both I love them.
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