Last week I had a very close call. I do not hold a very high opinion of the average American politico. As Homo sapiens goes, I find the pol somewhat low-grade. Yet last week one of them nearly made such a stupendous leap that, had he completed it, he would have forced me to shuffle before you this morning, hangdog and with contrite heart, tendering apologies to the Hon. Gerald R. Ford.

On July 16, 1980, it appeared that our former unelected vice president and former unelected president was about to perpetrate a political sacrilege; he was about to commit a perfectly good selfless act for the good of our country.

With heretofore undreamt of astuteness, it appeared that Jerry now had come to recognize the grave condition that we are in domestically and abroad.

It appeared that he might drop his fond plans for spending the early 1980s on the golf courses of lush Palm Springs, scotch all his petty vanities and run as vice presidential candidate with Ronald Reagan. For a former president to end his career in such a minor role is not unprecendented. So committed to fighting slavery was John Quincy Adams that he spent his later years in the House of Representatives. Now Jerry was leaning toward lending his prestige to the 1980 Republican ticket so that the government of the United States might be wrested from the hopeless bungler currently endangering our peace and prosperity.

With dignity and vision, Jerry might serve as an elder statesman. It appeared that the grand and historic gesture was in the making, one that could change the vice presidency forever. Henchforth, the vice presidency might take over some of the burdens that have dissipated the modern presidency's vigor. What is more, the vice presidency might now evolve into something more than a vehicle for succession in time of crisis. It might become a source of counsel, an office reserved for seasoned statesmen who have been through the crisis of government before and who -- dare I say it -- might hold up to the people a special standard of statesmanlike conduct.

Well, at any rate Jerry and his ravening advisers blew it. The list of demands they made to Ronald Reagan was so preposterous as to confirm forever my dim estimate of them. Briefly stated, when offered a place at Ronald Reagan's banquet, they made pigs of themselves. They not only lost sight of large historic issues at hand; they lost sight of reality. Did Jerry actually think his advisors could negotiate a "co-presidency" without the country's tearing it apart? Did he think the Democrats would not turn the appaling agreement to their favor or that the ideological conservitives would not mutiny? Apparently he did not. For a certitude Henry Kissinger did not. He still describes the thing as lovely and admirible.

Henry once identified power as the ultimate aphrodisiac. Last week he confirmed my suspicion that power is more like a narcotic. One whiff of its vapors and Henry went on a jag. The sight grew repulsive. There he was, one minute inflamed and grabbing for power. Twelve hours later he was petulantly protesting his innocence. This last scene has been enacted too many times.

And what of Reagan? Here is a man described by all righteous liberals as unimaginative, inflexible, not very intelligent, and green. Naturally, and as always, I believed them. Yet under pressure Reagan showed magnanimity toward an old enemy. He showed himself willing to weigh a stunningly wide array of options. He negotiated boldly and intellgently, patiently enduring slights, always mindful of his goal. Decisive when the time for decision came, he made a sound choice. Now he stands accused by all liberaldom of having done all that the liberals had counseled him to do. Adherence to the liberal gospel often places heavy demands on one's sense of consistency.

Having made his choice at the end of a grueling day, Reagan then went beyond the call of duty. He broke precedent and went to the convention to soothe his supporters. There before the cameras and the delegates he showed grace, intelligence and tolerable candor. He must not do this again; he imperils my option of the average politician.