Like most Americans, I was impressed with the splendor and excitement of last week’s presidential inauguration and, like many Americans, I was disappointed by the universally sour attitude towards our outgoing president and the excessively silly pomp surrounding the ceremony.
Three days later, I was wandering around Las Vegas’s newest library, Centennial Hills, and browsed their used bookstore before leaving. I noticed a large hardcover with a picture of the White House on the cover. Picking it up, I saw that it was A Great New Beginning: The 1981 Inaugural Story. Feeling the mirthful hand of serendipity guiding me, I gave the librarian a dollar for it and left.
The first thing that struck me was the chapter on Vice President Bush’s family; the pictures of son George Bush, Jr. alone more than made my dollar worth it. I assume that, since this book has presumably been out of print for more than a quarter century, I’m OK reproducing a few pictures. In this family portrait, he’s on our left:
He’s leaning over in the back of this one, in front of his wife Laura. His paragraph in the chapter describes him as a 34-year-old business executive (a graduate of Harvard and Yale), who “owns his own company in Texas.”
Here’s a picture of just the two of them:
At the Inaugural Ball, entertainers included Johnny Carson (pictured below) as well as such luminaries as Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra. Such a classy evening is not likely to be seen again. Two other guests, pictured below, were a very young pair of siblings named Donny and Marie Osmond:
Next are two pictures of the inauguration ceremony itself. Sorry to always sound like such a crusty curmudgeon, but they record a mature dignity that today’s society just lacks. Look at that crowd: not a mohawk or a nose ring in sight (is anybody else bothered by how common mohawks have become?). In fact, most of them are wearing suits and ties. How many suits and ties did we see in the crowd at last weeks’ inauguration?
Below, Reagan is administered the oath by Chief Justice Warren Berger. (Another joy of this book is the novelty of seeing not only younger versions of current movers and shakers, but contemporaneous accounts of former leaders when they were at the vanguard of the world.) If you can’t read the text, it points out that the Reagan family Bible used during the oath was open to this marked passage, II Chronicles 7:14: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” I’m proud to admit that that gets me a little misty eyed.
At the end of the book is Reagan’s inaugural speech. Opinions about Obama’s speech last week are, not surprisingly, divided along ideological lines, with supporters seeing it as a direct yet rhetorically powerful call to arms, and detractors seeing it as a flat agglomeration of clichés.
There’s no denying the historical importance of Reagan’s speech, though. Reading it inspired me, with such invigorating declarations as “In the present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; it is the problem.” Especially considering the course our leaders are taking to address the economy today, these words aren’t just wise, they’re prophetic.
So, let’s conclude this tour of the inauguration of 28 years ago with this portrait of the hero who was: