January 20, 1977. I’m a brand new mother, sitting on the living room floor of our lower flat on Milwaukee’s southside, playing with the baby and watching a grainy black and white television screen. Jimmy Carter, along with Rosalyn and Amy, are walking their way to the White House down Pennsylvania Avenue from the Capitol swearing-in ceremony.
No president had ever done anything like that before.
Say what you will about the Carter presidency and all its disappointments, but give him credit for that simple, “I am everyman” gesture with which he began his tenure as the 39th President of the United States.
I may have been a bit hormonal ( OK, a LOT) but that wasn’t the only reason I was crying. I remember thinking and feeling as I watched the events of that 1977 Inaugural that the grade school history page that declared “anyone can grow up to be President of the United States,” wasn’t trite at all. I wondered who’s baby, in which city or town, on a mother’s lap or a father’s shoulders, might someday take the same oath, on the same Capitol steps and make that same journey down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Since then, of course, we’ve learned that the “anyone” of the promise can in fact be a person with little regard for the U.S. Constitution or its people, and that gestures – small or large – are often empty political ploys. It’s so easy to be cynical.
Which is why I secretly booked a D.C. hotel the morning after Obama’s acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in Denver, and didn’t tell GH until Tuesday night.
Come January 20, 2009, we’ll be watching the Inaugural in living color.