About the time when Ronald Reagan's return to public speaking reminded Washington that the presidency is basically a one-man show, Jerry Ford was saying the same thing, quietly, in Ann Arbor, Mich. He was out there on the campus of the university to dedicate his presidential library. There are only seven such libraries in the nation, and the rituals of initiation into this select club are pleasant and special.
Last week the directors of other libraries from Hoover to Johnson came to admire the new architecture, landscaping, electronic retrieval devices and pictorial displays. Cabinet members from Ford's Administration assembled for reminiscences, and friends joined to lend their good wishes.
The library and the ceremony were like Ford himselflow key, square corners, functional and direct. Ford presided, with his pipe and his smile at the ready, looking a dozen years younger than the 67 he is.
He wandered in the library's lobby among photographs and mementos of his trip to China in 1975. There is a picture of Ford trooping the line in Peking with Vice Chairman Deng Xiaoping, another of Betty Ford, shoes off, dancing with the children of a ballet class. It is fascinating how much recent Presidents have adopted the Chinese nation as their reference point of triumph and adventure.
There is even a laugh or two among the 15 million pages of documents, 700,000 feet of film and 275,000 still photographs that are being catalogued. On display is the letter that Cartoonist Garry Trudeau wrote to Ron Nessen, Ford's press secretary, asking for accreditation on the Chinese trip. Trudeau took along a Frisbee, which he and NBC's Tom Brokaw tossed back and forth on the Great Wall until Susan Ford suggested it was not dignified. From such original research Trudeau conceived the Chinese adventures of "Uncle Duke" in Doonesbury.
Though he looks fit enough to go another term or two in the White House, Ford says he is happy to be out of officeholding for all time. His good cheer comes from being a distance away from the nation's capital, a vantage point that convinces him things are moving up for the U.S. "There is a good feeling in the country despite the problems," Ford said one morning at breakfast. He talked alternately about the world today and as it was when he was a student living at the Deke house, just a couple of blocks up the road. Ronald Reagan's economic plans would work, insisted Ford, if the American people wanted them to work. "That is more important than all the technical things, all this micro-and macroeconomics," he said. "There is just no way to equate that with the will of 226 million Americans." As always with Ford, the old bruises and arguments have been set aside, and he is 110% behind the President. The people are feeling once again that they are being "properly led," says Ford, and that is the basis of power.
The folks who went to Ann Arbor obviously felt that they were properly led when Ford ran the shop. They believe that when the historians settle into then-studies of those years they will give Ford better marks than he has got so far.