YOU'RE lookin' at a junkyard dog. Yes ma'am, meaner than a junkyard dog,'' says Ronald L. Walker, chairman of the 50th American presidential inaugural, Jan. 21. He's talking about himself and about his policy on distribution of 140,000 much-coveted inaugural tickets. ``It's not that we're goin' to be rude, crude, or socially ugly with anyone. It's just that we're going to hold the line,'' he vows. Mr. Walker is in the unenviable position of being Cecil B. de Mille to a cast of thousands in a $12 million to $13 million production number that takes 21/2 months to stage, involves massed battalions of volunteers, paid staff, news media, armed forces personnel, and Hollywood stars, along with fireworks, eight gala balls, two swearing-in ceremonies, and a parade that includes 43 bands, one dog sled, and the Sacramento Sheriff Posse. He prefers not to think of it as an epic production, but to run it as a business. The inaugural business.
When President Reagan named Michael Deaver, deputy White House chief of staff, as general chairman of the inaugural committee, Mr. Deaver turned right around and chose Ron Walker as committee chairman. Walker had already proved he had a good head for Republican business. As manager of the 1984 Republican National Convention in Dallas, he had run that event with a precision Rockettes would admire, bringing it in under its $8 million budget.
Already, the inaugural committee has raised $9 million in 12 days through interest-free loans, surpassing its $8 million ``foundation'' goal. ``We have already attempted to manage it like a business'' Walker says. ``There are political ramifications in anything of this nature, but if you are running it like a business and you are fair and you are honest and you are straightforward and you set your goals, people might not like what the final product is . . [but] they can simply say, `Well, I wish I'd gotten more, but they were fair to us.' ''
Walker's goal is in line with the populist theme of this year's inaugural, which is ``We the People . . . an American celebration,'' a contrast to the first Reagan inaugural, criticized for its lavish, neo-Hollywood image. Washington streets were clogged with stretch limousines and, at the $500-a-seat candlelight dinners as well as the galas, guests dripped with mink, chinchilla, designer gowns, and enough real jewels to rival Tiffany's. That first Reagan inaugural's cost was estimated at $12 million by the administration, $16 million by the Washington Post. Even at $12 million it was the costliest in history, four times as expensive as the $3 million Carter inaugural, costlier than the previous record-setter, the $4 million second Nixon inaugural. Charles Wick, cochairman of the 1981 Reagan inaugural, had estimated its price tag at $7 million. So at $12 to $16 million there was, as they say at the Pentagon, a considerable cost overrun.
Mike Deaver, sitting in shirt sleeves in his White House office in the December dusk, says this inaugural will not go over budget. ``We have tried to put this inaugural on at actually a reduction, if you take into consideration inflation. Because this inaugural is going to cost approximately what the one did four years ago.''
How are costs being cut? ``If you look at the last inaugural schedule, they were having four or five events a day. We're having no more than two events a day. We've cut way back; we've tried to make this a much more austere and dignified inaugural. Not that I'm criticizing the last one, because it was a beautiful three or four days. But, being the second inaugural of a reelected president, it doesn't need to have quite the festive display that the first one did.''
Deaver denies that the choice of a populist theme was a conscious attempt to deflect any criticism that this inaugural, like the last one, will be extravagant. ``No, that really never entered our thinking when we chose the theme. We chose the theme based on the mandate of the presidency, based on the kind of broad cross section of voters that elected him -- that it ought to celebrate that, that we ought to be talking about blue-collar workers, and that we ought to be talking about young people and minorities, and special groups around the country who all joined together to reaffirm their belief in this President. And I think you'll see that theme -- We the People, a united America kind of thing -- amplified on in, first, the inaugural address, and then the State of the Union, and subsequent speeches and addresses the President will be making.''
Despite the ``We the People'' theme, the actual swearing-in will not have one member of the press present to report it to the American people. Because the official inaugural takes place Jan. 20, which falls on a Sunday this year, it will be ``a private ceremony.'' The Supreme Court and members of the Cabinet and Congress will be there. Asked why there will not even be pool coverage after the recent controversy over barring the press from another event, the Grenada invasion, he answers: ``Well, there will be 45,000 to 50,000 people who will witness the traditional swearing in ceremony on the southwest steps of the Capitol, so the people won't be deprived of witnessing the swearing-in ceremonies.''
After the private ceremonies Jan. 20, Deaver says, the press will be able to see and talk to the President. He adds that a White House photographer will ``record'' the swearing-in.
Then Deaver, who is considered chief imagemaker in the White House, adds, ``And I think it robs a little bit of the public ceremonies to see this whole thing twice. It doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to the people out there. I understand the media's attitude. But that's a continuing dialogue that we have. The media is never going to be happy unless they sit in the Oval Office 12 hours a day.'' He notes that in Eisenhower's second term, the press couldn't quote the President without permission, and that photographs of FDR being ``loaded'' into his wheelchair were off limits. ``So you people think you've lost access. We've also lost something from a professional-respect standpoint in this office, in my opinion.''
There have been surprises in previous inaugurals: President Lyndon Johnson vaulted out of his bulletproof limousine to greet the marching band of his Texas alma mater, and President Jimmy Carter, who wore a business suit, strolled down Pennsylvania Avenue with his family. Last time, President Reagan wore a short, dark jacket known as a ``club coat,'' striped trousers, silver-gray tie, and no hat. This time, says Deaver, ``no white tie, no morning coat. We're back to business suits.'' He dismisses the thought of any presidential surprises.
One subject that both Deaver and Walker are grim and tight-lipped about is security. Neither will answer any specific qustions, and Deaver will admit only that there will be more Secret Service men and women than at the last inaugural. It appears that everyone in the crowd of thousands at the public swearing-in on Monday will have to pass through metal detectors. That ceremony takes place on the west side of the Capitol, which is more exposed than the somewhat sheltered east side. Deaver says the committee didn't consider moving it back to the east side, with its protective portico, because the west accommodates a much bigger crowd.
Within recent months security has been tightened considerably at the Capitol, with large concrete barriers and guard houses at the entrances to prevent auto access by anyone without security clearance. Similar concrete bulwarks in front of the White House have been extended further out on Pennsylvania Avenue in the last few weeks to protect the pine grandstand now being built, from which the President reviews the inaugural parade.
Security is also tight at T-5, the converted, aqua-painted Army barracks on Anacostia Drive where the inaugural committee is hard at work. Even for the press, security there is like entering the Pentagon. There will be 14,000 members of the national and international press with credentials for the inaugural, says chairman Walker. The 50,000 tickets to the inaugural balls or galas will be issued through a highly computerized system; 350,000 ``commemoriative'' invitations, which do not admit their recipients, have already been sent out.
Celebrations will begin with Friday night fireworks on the Ellipse and an inaugural gala for the vice-president; Saturday will include a concert for young Americans and a leadership forum for them, reflecting this year's inaugural emphasis on youth, as well as the ``gala gala,'' the star-studded, televised, two-hour show run by Frank Sinatra at the Washington convention center. (The inaugural committee, selling 12 to 14 minutes of commercial time at $300,000 a minute, expects to raise at least $3.6 million from this and the sale of inaugural souvenirs, like gold cuff links and crystal glasses). After Sunday's ecumenical ``National Prayer Service'' in Washington Cathedral and the private swearing-in, there will be a young Americans pageant and more fireworks.
The Monday, Jan. 21, inaugural ceremony will be followed by a congressional luncheon, parade, and eight black-tie balls, including one for young Americans.