VICE PRESIDENT Mondale's recent boo-boo on the speaker's stand in referring to President Carter as "President Kennedy" undoubtedly was embarrassing to him, but it wasn't really an unprecedented slip in public oratory. It just tends to get more media attention when it happens to a prominent politician, as I know only too well.
I recall how the traveling press leaped joyfully to their typewriters when, in the 1956 presidential campaign, Estes Kefauver made oratorical reference to his "good friend Mike Monroney" at a Democratic rally in Butte, Mont. Unfortunately, he meant Mike Mansfield, the Montana senator who was seated next to him on the platform. What made this even more remarkable was that only a few days earlier in Omulgee, Okla., again at a campaign rally, Kefauver has paid his respects to "my good friend Mike Mansfield" who, regrettably, sat to his immediate left in the person of Sen. Mike Monroney of Oklahoma.
Certainly two senators named Mike with alliterative names could create momentary confusion for even a goldenthroat like Billy Graham or John Connaly. But Estes did have a sort of preoccupation or abstractedness about him that warned you he would get off the track now and then. You could bank on it.
In late October of that same 1956 campaign (Stevenson-Kefauver vs. Eisenhower-Nixon) all of us on the Kefauver staff sniffed defeat, and we were grabbing at straws. The IKE button was everywhere. It was the symbol of our frustration. On the Kefauver "Mainstreeter" DC6 somewhere over the Pacific Northwest, I suggested to the candidate that we meet this head-on. On his next TV appearance Estes would display the hated IKEbutton and say: "Do you know what this IKE really stands for? It means 'I Know Estes!' " Kefauver bought the idea, and the next time on TV he displayed the button with a flourish, saying, "Do you know what this IKE really stands for? It means 'I Know Kefauver!' " IKK!
Kefauver, too, sensed defeat. But one day, only a week before the election, there came a trememdous and unexpected morale-booster for the entourage aboard the DC6. We were on the approach-and-landing leg coming into a town in Wisconsin. As the pilot banked toward the field, I glanced out the window and saw a huge crowd almost circling the airport. I slid into the seat next to the candidate. "My God, Estes," I said, "look at that crowd. Maybe the whole thing's turned around in the last few days. Why would all these people be out there if they thought we were defeated?" A pleased grin crossed his huge face. Visions of victory danced in his eyes.
I made sure to be first off the plane, and rushed up to our advance man and grasped his hand. "Great work, Dave. What a fine job you've done," I said. "About this crowd, Bill --" Dave began, tightening his grip on my hand. Trying to break away and rejoin the candidate, I said, "I know. It's a hell of a turnout. Thanks so much." "Bill, listen to me. The reason for this crowd -- " "Yes?" I said. "The reason for this crowd is that this is the first time a four-engined plane ever tried to land here and they're all out to see the crash."
Poor Estes. I wonder if he ever knew. I never told him.
So my advice to Fritz Mondale on his current whistle-stop tour is that whenever he flies into a strange and crowded airport, he'e be wise to ask the pilot if he's ever been there before.