The president's homecoming schedule, however, looks the same as it has most days this month, except that he leaves the White House later than usual, at 2:50 P.M. by helicopter to Andrews Air Force Base for the trip on Air Force One: Kent County Airport at 4:35; Calder Plaza for a rally at 5:05 and presentation of homemade cookies and a replica of a Lincoln table; Hospitality Inn for a Republican cocktail party at 6:20; presentation of a Shriner fez at 7:25; meeting with labor leaders at 7:30; meeting with G.O.P. congressional candidates at 7:45; Calvin College for a Republican rally at 8:27 and presentation of a painting and wood-carving; airport at 9:50 and presentation of a Fraternal Order of Police membership; back to Washington at 11:30.
The homecoming seems surprisingly unemotional—or. perhaps. Ford and the people who knew him when are just stolid folk. It is a dreary, rainy night and the president says that "words are inadequate to express everything I feel deep down in my heart." Certainly his words are—and things aren't helped when he pledges "my heart, my soul, my conviction, my dedication" to the election of a congressional candidate named Paul Goebel Jr., who he later admits privately is something of a clod.
Lyman Parks, the mayor of Grand Rapids, opens the ceremonies by thanking Michigan Governor William Milliken for interrupting his busy schedule to come to town, but, curiously, no speaker ever mentions Ford's schedule.
". . . The assumption of the White House press is, 'What the hell, it was Jerry talking about things he doesn't understand'. . ."
The president's delivery is as flat and stumbling as usual, and, as usual, the crowds give him far more applause before he speaks than after. At the Calvin College Republican rally, Christian High School cheerleaders are used to rehearse the crowd's cheering and applause for an hour before Ford arrives. The White House transcript of his remarks is later edited to make a little more sense. The "as delivered" text, for instance, indicates the president said of World War II: "We got involved in a contest between freedom on the one hand and the effort on the part of some to subjugate people on the other." Actually he said, "We got involved in a contest between freedom on the one hand and liberty on the . . . and . . . and . . . and . . . the effort to . . . to the effort on the part of some to subjugate people on the other."
Back at Kent County Airport, however, there are several hundred people waiting to see the president in a downpour. With Secret Service agents scrambling to hold an umbrella over him, Ford sloshes through mud and small rain lakes to shake hands for twenty minutes, saying, "Hi . . . Hi . . . Good to see you . . . Thank you." On the plane back to Washington, Nessen says Ford has learned that Nixon is in critical condition in Long Beach but the new president has no plans to visit his predecessor next week in California.
Sioux City, Iowa. Oct. 31.
On the flight from Washington to Sioux City, Nessen says the president has no plans to visit Nixon tomorrow in California. The press secretary also emphasizes that there has been no change in United States policy toward Palestinian refugees, even though the president, at a news conference the day before, had seemed to back off the U.S. position that all negotiations on Israeli-occupied territories on the west bank of the Jordan River must include only Israel and Jordan, by saying: "We, of course, feel there must be a movement toward settlement of the problem between Israel and Egypt on the one hand, between Israel and Jordan or the P.L.O. on the other."
Whatever the president meant by that—he seemed to be equating the legitimacy of Jordan and the Palestine Liberation Organization—the White House press corps doesn't take the thing particularly seriously. The unstated assumption is that Henry Kissinger handles American foreign policy. One senior correspondent says: "What the hell, it was just Jerry talking about things he doesn't understand."
On the ground in Sioux City, Don Stone, the public-relations director of the Northwestern National Bank, is rehearsing crowd cheers: "Now when I say ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States, I want you to . . ."
When Ford descends to say a few nice words about Wiley Mayne, one of the least impressive members of the House Judiciary Committee, the president says: "A few days ago I went to my hometown. We had a wonderful reception, but I can say without any reservation or qualification, the reception here is just as enthusiastic, just as warm."
That's about right—and people beyond the tenth row are talking to each other in small groups as he says it. Ford tells the crowd not to pay any attention to a Des Moines headline that says FORD HAS NO FARM PLAN. He says he does have a plan and begins to list a series of existing laws and agreements "I will strictly enforce."