President Reagan came here Wednesday to praise the man he buried in a political landslide six years ago, joining hands with former President Jimmy Carter for the official dedication of Carter's presidential library and museum.
Standing before the $25-million Carter Presidential Center on a historic hillside overlooking the downtown skyline, Reagan spoke to a crowd estimated at 9,000.
He acknowledged his sharp political differences with Carter but went on to portray the ex-President as a quintessential American hero, working his way up from a Georgia peanut farm to the Oval Office with the help of faith and family.
The President concluded his speech by telling Carter: "For myself, I can pay you no higher honor than to say simply this: You gave of yourself to your country, gracing the White House with your passionate intellect and commitment. Now you have become a permanent part of that grand old house, so rich in tradition, that belongs to us all."
It was an obviously moving moment for Carter, who suffered a devastating electoral defeat at Reagan's hands in the 1980 presidential election and ever since has been hounded by an image of his one-term Administration as weak and ineffectual.
In fact, after Reagan completed his remarks, Carter stepped to the microphone and said: "As I listened to you talk, I understood more clearly than I ever did in my life why you won in 1980 and I lost."
Reagan and his wife, Nancy, as well as Carter's vice president, former Democratic presidential candidate Walter F. Mondale, were among hundreds of public officials, dignitaries and former Carter Administration figures who attended the dedication.
The new presidential center, which consists of four buff-colored circular buildings linked by walkways and set in a semicircle around a 2 1/2-acre lake with a Japanese garden, is nestled on the side of the hill from which Union Gen. William T. Sherman watched the burning of Atlanta during the Civil War.
It reflects Carter's desire to use the influence and experience he gained in office to continue the search for solutions to world problems.
Besides a presidential library-museum containing more than 27 million pages of documents from his Administration, the center houses a global public policy "think tank," known formally as the Carter Center of Emory University, and two other organizations devoted to international issues, Global 2000 Inc. and the Carter-Menil Human Rights Foundation. There is also a large working office for Carter.
Exhibit on Carter's Life
The library-museum, which features an exhibit on Carter's life and a reproduction of the Oval Office as it appeared during his presidency, will be run by the National Archives and Records Administration, which operates the seven other library complexes dedicated to previous U.S. presidents.
As part of the ceremony, Carter, who marked his 62nd birthday Wednesday, gave the federal agency the deed to the library and museum. He called them "a gift from me and my family to all the people of the United States in appreciation for the great honor you have bestowed on us."
Speaking of his pride in the impressive set of buildings, he said: "This is one time that the dream was exceeded by the reality."
The library-museum was to be opened to the public today.
Cheese Grits for Breakfast
For major contributors to the presidential center, which was built with privately donated funds, the morning-long ceremonies began with a breakfast of eggs baked in puffed pastry, oven-roasted quail and--to add a Southern touch--cheese grits.
The breakfast was followed by the dedication of the Japanese garden, a gift of Japanese industrialist Tadao Yoshida, and the unveiling of the "founder's wall," a large marble plaque with the names of those who contributed $10,000 or more to construction of the center.
The Carters then greeted the Reagans, who flew to Atlanta from Washington aboard Air Force One, and gave them a private tour of the library-museum building. With the women in front and the men behind, the four then followed a winding path to the grassy slope where the public dedication ceremony for the complex was held.
'Proud of Our Differences'
"None of us today need feel any urge, in the name of good will, to downplay our differences," Reagan said as he opened his remarks. "On the contrary, in a certain sense, we can be proud of our differences, proud because they arise from good will itself . . . ."
He went on to extol Carter's rigorous upbringing on his family's peanut farm in Plains, Carter's contribution to the creation of a "New South" during his tenure as Georgia's governor and his naval career under the late Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the so-called father of the nuclear Navy.
Then, turning to Carter's White House years, he said: "Your countrymen have vivid memories of your time in the White House still: They see you working in the Oval Office at your desk with an air of intense concentration; repairing to a quiet place to receive the latest word on the hostages you did so much to free; or studying in your hideaway office for the meeting at Camp David that would mark such a breakthrough for peace in the Middle East."
In a departure from his prepared remarks, Reagan concluded by saying: "Happy birthday! If I can give you one word of advice: Life begins at 70."
Blasted Carter in Campaign
Reagan's praise for Carter's role in the hostage crisis was in sharp contrast with Reagan's 1980 campaign speeches, in which he blasted Carter for failing to free the Americans held hostage in Iran for 444 days. In recent campaign appearances for GOP candidates, Reagan has also raised the issue of the "malaise" during the Carter years.
For his part, Carter has been critical of Reagan's nuclear arms policies, and, in an interview broadcast on national public radio only hours before the dedication, Carter was sharply critical of the Administration's handling of arrangements to free American journalist Nicholas Daniloff from the Soviet Union.
Among those in the crowd at the public ceremonies were demonstrators protesting Reagan's policies on nuclear weapons and South Africa and Carter's plan to have a 2.4-mile, four-lane expressway built through a historic section of Atlanta to the library. A "Stop the Road" sign was borne aloft, and there was sporadic heckling during Reagan's speech, but it was overwhelmed by cheers and applause.