Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

More Inaugural Memories from Our Oral History Archives

Jimmy Carter Inauguration

Jimmy Carter’s Inauguration, January 20, 1977. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration. PD.

One aide to George H.W. Bush called the Inaugural the “biggest day” of any commander in chief’s life.  Today we bring you some more inaugural memories from the Miller Center’s Presidential Oral History Program archives. 

Max Friedersdorf, staff director for the Senate Republican Policy Committee, discussed how Jimmy Carter’s domestic policy advisor, Hamilton Jordon got in “deep do-do” with House Speaker Tip O’Neill  when he didn’t get the Speaker enough Inaugural Ball tickets in 1977:

Well, first thing that happened, they got in deep do-do with Speaker O’Neill and they never recovered the whole four years. Hamilton Jordan also got cross-wise with the Speaker. After a while, [Frank] Moore hired Bill Cable and Dan Tate, who were Hill people. Great guys, perfect, but they should’ve been brought in at the start. He didn’t hire anybody. He was just going to do it himself. He didn’t return a phone call from Tip O’Neill and he didn’t get him all the tickets he wanted for the inaugural and Tip never ever let him off the hook. He couldn’t get in Tip O’Neill’s office; he was barred. Congressional relations barred! So when we got up there we never had any contact with him whatsoever, none. In the two years, I never saw Frank Moore. And I don’t think any of the Republican Senators or staff—I think they’d tell you the same thing. I don’t know where they were. But I think that was part of Carter’s problem, obviously.

President Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, discussed having President Carter sign off on a restricting of the national security team during an Inaugural gala: 

I sat down with him [Carter] one evening and we worked on a formula for two committees. One committee would be called PRC—Policy Review Committee, which would deal with long-range policy issues and would be chaired by a Secretary. Prior to each meeting, the notion was that I would submit a memo to Carter informing him that a PRC is to be held on such and such a topic and that I recommend that the Secretary of State or the Secretary of Defense chair it. You approve it. The other committee would be called SCC—Special Coordination Committee, and that would be for crosscutting interagency issues. I would chair that committee. The three crosscutting agency issues would be: covert activity, arms control, and price management. Carter loved that. I drew up with David Aaron, my deputy, a memorandum which we called presidential directive because we changed the names of the previous papers. I took it to the Kennedy Center, at the time of the presidential gala the evening before the inaugural, and during intermission got Carter out and had him sign it, and the next day at 3 p.m. right after the inaugural I had messengers deliver copies of it to Brown and to Vance and to whoever was acting before Turner to inform them of the new arrangements. They were surprised.

William H. Webster, FBI Director, recounted watching the 1981 inaugural parade:

I can mention one funny incident, at the inauguration. We were invited and we sat up in that upper area where officials sit during the inauguration. We had a great view of Pennsylvania Avenue from the FBI, and I had invited a number of people to come back and watch the parade from my office space on the seventh floor, including some of George Bush’s relatives, I’m trying to think who all they were. A lot of family people came up. But I needed to get back. So they’d arranged to get us in a car which was parked outside and head down Pennsylvania Avenue. Right alongside us was the young son… Young Ron, Ronnie. He didn’t have the right license plates. He was to be the first car in Pennsylvania Avenue and they wouldn’t let him go, he didn’t have the right license plates. That put our car first going down from Capitol Hill. My late wife, Drue, was wearing a red coat. The only other person wearing a red coat was Nancy Reagan. We were starting down, these people were looking in, Now who is this? They didn’t realize that Reagan had gone to have lunch with Congressmen. So yes, they started waving, so we started waving back. We had a wonderful time all the way down Pennsylvania Avenue.