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Jerry Ford and His Flying Circus: A Presidential Diary

Wichita; Kansas. Nov. 2.
While the president visits two Republican receptions and a Shriners meeting, David Owen, the lieutenant governor of Kansas, entertains 4,000 more waiting Republicans at the Century II Convention Center. "They tell me I have to fill a few more minutes before the president arrives. Well, I hate to tell Polack jokes, but these are Polack stories. . . ."

Ford spoke for 28 minutes. When the transcript of his remarks was prepared, I said to someone on the White House staff: "You know, the whole first page doesn't really make any sense."

"Wait till you see the second page," he answered.

These are the highlights of the official transcript of the first page:

"It is great to be here despite the weather. I love you. Thank you.

"As Bob was going through the process of making the introduction, I tried to think of how many times, how many places I have been in Kansas in the last 25-plus years as a member of the House, as Minority Leader, as Vice President, and President.

"And I wrote down, I think, most of them—I am sure I missed some—but we went out to Great Bend. Wasn't that wonderful out there last year? It rained there too, but that was all right. But I have been in Dodge City, and you know what they do to you in Dodge City. . . . Well, I like Kansas."

On the flight from Wichita back to Washington, exhausted reporters look over the schedule for the president's next campaign. On November 17, he will take the road show to Japan, Korea, and Russia. "Wait till the Russians get a load of this," someone says. "When they thought Kennedy was a clown in Vienna they put missiles in Cuba. This time it might be Long Island."

Air Force One lands at Andrews Air Force Base early on Sunday, November 3, and the president of the United States is back at the White House at 1:15 A.M.

The press back-up plane—six "pool" reporters travel on Air Force One—touched down at Andrews about an hour later and 30 reporters headed for home, hearth, and wife. Like a lot of young newspapermen, I was once told by a city editor that the lead of a story is what you tell your wife when she asks you what went on that day. I am willing to bet that on that particular late night what reporters were telling their wives was a hell of a lot different from what they had been writing.

What would I say at home? I would choose my words carefully and say, "The president of the United States is a very ordinary man." He is, in a phrase coined by Saul Friedman of the Knight Newspapers, our "Commoner-in-Chief." It is not hard to walk by him without noticing, as Bill Walter and Dave Hopkins did in Grand Junction.

President Ford stayed in Washington for fourteen days before taking off on his first foreign trip—the first of many, according to some of the men close to him. Our last president was a recluse; this one cannot stand being alone. Much of his Oval Office time was spent in post-mortems of the last trip and briefings for the next.

Welcome home and sayonara, Mr. President! There are times, and this is one of them, when Herblock is deeper than The New York Times. We have always cherished the promise that any one of us could be president. Any one of us now is.


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