Mr. Congeniality takes to the 'bully pulpit'
Washington — The Ronald Reagan style is so very different from that of Jimmy Carter. Take , for example, the way each has received reporters in the Oval Office of the White House.
Carter was always the self-disciplinarian, guarding every precious moment. The reporter seated. Then on the dot of the appointed time Carter came striding quickly into the room. There might be a few amenities. Then to work. A few smiles. But all business. Carter clearly had a lot on his mind and was anxious to get back to his priorities. The reporter sensed it. He felt just a little ill at ease.
But Reagan is different (not necessarily better, mind you, but different) in the way he receives reporters and others in the White House.He is at the door of the Oval Office, shaking hands, expressing warm hospitality, joking a bit: the perfect host.
Then, as if one were in Reagan's own living room back in Los Angeles or at his ranch, the President, with small talk and that easy way of his, seats his guests and moves quickly, though without pressing, to the matter at hand. Or so it was in the first presidential interview with a small group from the press.
Mr. Carter, despite his Annapolis precision and insistence on using every working moment intently, was not ungracious. His was a courteous, no-nonsense style. But Mr. Reagan, effortlessly, makes his guests feel fully at home.
At last week's interview with Reagan neared its end, press secretary Jim Brady said, "One more question." But Reagan took several more questions and then moved into his own little bit of easygoing commentary when a newsman asked him if he would seek to keep alive "the wonderful spirit in America" that surfaced with the hostages' return.
Yes, he said he was going to try very hard to do this. Someone asked, "How?" And Reagan referred to Teddy Roosevelt's "bully pulpit." He was frequently going to use this "bully pulpit" to reach out and touch the best impulses of the American people and thus to try to create a new American spirit that would really be similar to that which he knew in the days of his youth.
"I think you could use it [the "bully pulpit"] in almost anything that you did," he said, "in things like the welcoming home ceremony, and so forth. You just don't miss any opportunities." He continued speaking as he looked up at his press secretary who was eyeing his watch:
"You know," he said, "if you'll forgive me, and I know you see I'm being told I'm running out of time. But I remember back when I was a boy and you'd go to the movies, and they were silent and they had subtitles on the screen. But you'd go there, and, of course, Westerns were the big fare, with people waiting for blocks to get it, and there was a line that was a cliche in every one of these movies."
"Those were the days of Tom Mix and Hoot Gibson," someone said.
"Yes, you'd remember those actors, too, wouldn't you? Well, anyway, there'd always be a scene with the outlaws and then one fellow would suggest robbing the mail train. And invariably the cliche was when the outlaw leader would turn to him and say, 'Don't be stupid,' he'd say. 'Look, the bank is all right, the stage coach, too, but you don't monkey around with Uncle Sam.'
"And everybody in the theater would cheer and break into applause no matter how many times they'd heard it. And that was the way we felt about our national government. How long has it been since anyone felt that way about our national government?But it was that 'by golly you don't fuss around with Uncle Sam.'"
Now the President and the five newsmen were on their feet. But the President kept chatting, amiably. He is always Mr. Congeniality. There is no pomposity. Yet there is a dignity. He does seem presidential without working at being presidential.
"Do you like this job?" someone asked. "You're not ready to go back to California and the ranch, are you?"
"No," he answered, smiling. "But I have no illusions about it [the presidency] being a glorified, symbolic position." Then came this exchange:
Q. "You'd probably rather be in Florida, where I came in from by plane to make this appointment -- thus my very informal attire."
A. "Well, I just came back from Camp David myself. And I get into informal things there."
Q. "did you enjoy it at Camp David? It was a bit colder I would expect."
A. "Yes, I enjoyed it very much."
Q. "Did you get to ride a little bit?"
A. "No, no riding yet. We're going to have to wait until the weather gets better. But we hiked around a little bit. The biggest thing is that living here in the White House it tends to obligate you to stay close to your job. And up there you can just open the door and walk out and hike a little bit."
Q. "Do you think you might stay beyond your four years here ?"
A. "Well, ask me in about four years." (Laughter)