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A statue of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is unveiled at Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington November 1, 2011. At the unveiling are (L-R) Frederick Ryan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, Elizabeth Dole, Reagan A statue of former U.S. President Ronald Reagan is unveiled at Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington November 1, 2011. At the unveiling are (L-R) Frederick Ryan, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, Elizabeth Dole, Reagan's Secretary of Transportation, current Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and another of Reagan's Secretary of Transportation James Burnley. The statue is one of several worldwide that are being unveiled in 2011 as part of the historic year-long celebration commemorating the 100th anniversary of Reagan's birth. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR2THQ8  

Leadership Lesson: Never Take The Window Seat

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Matt K. Lewis
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      Matt K. Lewis

      Matt K. Lewis is a senior contributor to The Daily Caller, and a contributing editor for The Week. He is a respected commentator on politics and cultural issues, and has been cited by major publications such as The Washington Post and The New York Times. Matt is from Myersville, MD and currently resides in Alexandria, VA. Follow Matt K. Lewis on Twitter <a>@mattklewis</a>.

As I strode down the aisle of an airplane last week, as is my custom, I surveyed the first class passengers.

They are, after all, conveniently on full display for us. You typically have to walk past them, and they board first. Sometimes you’re even rewarded by spotting a celebrity or near celebrity (by which I mean politicians).

No such luck this time. But it did remind me of something.

In his latest book about Richard Nixon’s 1968 presidential run, The Greatest Comeback (podcast conversation here), Pat Buchanan notes that one of his early assignments “was to travel with [Nixon] and occupy the aisle seat beside him on the plane to keep people from interrupting him while he was thinking or outlining a speech…”

While Buchanan was running interference for Nixon, Ronald Reagan would take the opposite approach.

As Craig Shirley writes in Reagan’s Revolution, “Whenever he flew, Reagan would sit in the front row so he could talk to people as they boarded the plane.”

This, of course, is a small thing, but it strikes me as also quite telling. One man intentionally avoids people; the other invites conversation. One man declares war on the media, the other man becomes “The Great Communicator.” One man’s presidency goes down in flames, the other man has an airport named after him…

Is that a coincidence? Think about that the next time you book a flight.

* * *

Note: The reason I recalled this dichotomy was because the Reagan airplane story is one of the sections Shirley alleges was lifted by Rick Perlstein, whose book, The Invisible Bridge, notes: “When Ronald Reagan flew on commercial flights he always sat in the front row. That way he could greet passengers as they boarded.” (Perlstein then goes on to tell a longer story which was previously described in Shirley’s book.)