Write Again …At the White House -1980

Published 5:08 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2022

A trip to the White House, under almost any circumstances, would be exciting.

To receive a special invitation to attend an important presentation by the President, a reception afterward, and then a briefing by a cabinet-level person, was a thrill, the likes of which I may never again experience.

And so it was for me on Thursday, August 28,1980.

I suppose it really began on Tuesday, August 26, when Sarah, my older daughter, took the call from the White House advising that I was being invited to attend the President’s “Economic Renewal Plan” presentation, a reception, and a briefing.

At the time I was attending a teacher workshop in Williamston. When I pulled into the yard late that afternoon Sarah and Mary Bart bounded out of the house to give me the news.

“Poppa, Poppa, you’re going to the President’s house!” exclaimed Mary Bart. Sarah still wasn’t over the excitement of actually talking to someone at the White House.

I called the White House the next morning to get the particulars, and was instructed to call a certain number, where I would be asked several questions.

When I did this I was asked my name, my date of birth, and my social security number. That was all.

I left Manteo at four in the morning that Thursday, arriving in Washington a little after ten o’clock. After an hour or so at the Smithsonian where I visited the new Air and Space Museum, I then sought a place where I could change into proper attire for my “rendezvous with destiny.”

After lunch I strolled over to the southwest gate of the White House, where I had been instructed to report. Since I had some time before the “big event” I then repaired to a shaded park across the street and stretched out on the lawn.

A little after 1:30 I went back to the gate, and a few minutes later they began checking LD.’s and letting us in.

A casual stroll up the walkway, and then I was inside! Even though I had been through the White House as part of a tour back in 76, the feeling I was experiencing this time was quite different.

It was my good fortune to find a seat in the East Room (after wandering through some of the other rooms admiring the furnishings) where the presentation was to take place, on the third row, outside to the middle (down which the President and Mrs. Carter were to enter and leave). The lectern was some ten yards away.

Just a few minutes before two someone placed on the lectern the Seal of the President of the United States. A couple of minutes later a voice boomed out over a speaker, “Ladies and gentlemen – the President of the United States and Mrs. Carter.” Cold chills.

I won’t proceed with the “play by play.” I relish so doing, but space precludes it.

During the President’s presentation, which lasted some three-quarters of an hour, and during the reception immediately following, it was interesting to observe, to reflect upon, those with whom I was rubbing shoulders – quite literally – in a very informal, almost casual fashion.

Assembled were the members of the Cabinet, as well as cabinet-level persons, members of both houses of Congress, including the Speaker of the House, the heads (I mean very top) of industry, business (large and small), labor, several governors of large states, civil rights leaders, and others. The big boys, the real power structure. They came from across the geographic scope of America as well.

And I. Inwardly I chuckled to think what they would have thought about my “credentials.”

The only fellow columnist I recognized was James J. (Jack) Kilpatrick. All things considered; I thought old Jack was in pretty good journalistic company!

One observation: during and immediately following President Carter’s presentation I sensed a collective feeling in that room of genuine affection for the President. A small, resolute man, he isn’t the type to carry one in exhilaration and exultation to the heights on wings of eloquence, or by the sheer force of physical presence.

Yet, I felt close to him, in more than a literal sense. You sensed that here was an honorable, decent, and also highly intelligent and capable man doing a good job under very difficult circumstances not of his making. I am hopeful the American people won’t turn away from him. Especially now. The stakes are too high to gamble on others who play on the fears of people. Real or imagined, and who offer quick-fix schemes and over-simplified non-solutions to very complex problems.

After the reception I attended a briefing in a room of the new Executive Office Building. In my group were only a dozen or so persons. We were briefed, in round table fashion, by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and by the Director of the Small Business Administration. We were free, encouraged to ask questions. I listened.

At four it was all over. Except for the memories. APROPOS – “The power of the presidency is derived from the people.”

– H. V. McKeithan