Friday, July 14, 2006

President Ford Left the Nation in Better Shape

Michigan's own, President Gerald Ford, celebrated a birthday this week. How is his presidency viewed after all of these years? I think Jack Lessenberry's opinion is fairly accurate and his conclusion reflects what most of us expect from a president.
History's judgment is never complete, certainly not on any president. Books re-evaluating George Washington are still being published every year. Nevertheless, as he turns 93, I think it is clear that Gerald Ford is now more highly regarded than he was when he left office, and that his standing may continue to rise.

Ford is unique in one way. He was the only man ever to reach the presidency without having been elected either president or vice-president. Ten months before he took the oath of office, he would have regarded his chances for the White House as being as remote as I would my chances of pitching for the Detroit Tigers.

What's more, he honestly never wanted to be president. His goal was to be Speaker of the House, and when it was clear that the Republicans were unlikely to take control of Congress in his working lifetime, he was getting ready to retire.

Then suddenly, vice-president Spiro Agnew was caught committing a felony and forced to resign. Ford wasn't Nixon'’s first choice to replace him, but congressional leaders firmly told him Ford was the only candidate they could get confirmed.

The new vice-president intended to get his footnote in history, and go home. But then, in early August 1974, the smoking gun tape came out, and Gerald Ford suddenly realized two things. First, Richard Nixon had been lying to him. And he'’d better get ready to assume the presidency.

For a month, the nation was in love with the first President in decades who seemed like a normal human being. But then he pardoned Richard Nixon, and the honeymoon was over. Once again, we felt betrayed. The wonder wasn't that Ford lost when he tried to win election on his own; it is that he very nearly won.

Eleven years ago I went to his home in California and interviewing President Ford. I learned two things that startled me. First, he loathed Nixon, because he had lied to him, You didn'’t do that in Gerald Ford'’s world.

More importantly, I came to the conclusion which many historians have reached, that the pardon was the right thing to do.

"I was spending 25 percent of my time on Richard Nixon. Inflation was out of control. I had to get his problems off my desk,"” he said. He opened his wallet, took out a slip of paper, and handed it to me. It was from a 1915 U.S. Supreme Court decision. "The acceptance of a pardon may be construed as an admission of guilt,"” it said, or words to that effect. He smiled. I got it.

Gerald Ford wasn't perfect. He allowed the far right to push Nelson Rockefeller off the ticket in 1976. As a congressman, he engaged in a bizarre effort to impeach U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, which went nowhere.

But Ford left the presidency and the nation in better shape than when he came into it. What more can you ask, after all, than that?
Indeed, I think that's what most Americans want too, but I also believe we want something more - the truth. I was struck by the fact that Gerald Ford loathed being lied to by Nixon, and it made me wonder what he thinks about the lies that led us to invade Iraq.


Lew Scannon said...

He was the only man ever to reach the presidency without having been elected either president or vice-president. that was, until George Bush took (and I mean took) office.
I remember every summer when I was a boy, Gerald Ford coming to the Coast Guard Festival parade in my hometown, even though we weren't in his district. Now I live in his hometown and drive on the Gerald Ford Freeway past the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum and the Gerald Ford International Airport. It's comforting that not everythting in this town is named after a DeVos.

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about Ford, but from what I've gathered in my limited political studies, he was a man of the people(in the people's eyes, not his own). Our country needs a man like as honest as Ford in office. i believe many problems we face as a nation today are due to a lack of trust in the administration.

Although, in times like these that honesty may need to be coupled with a more aggressive view of foreign policy. But I do believe that at the time, Ford is what America needed. I can only hope that we are lucky enough to get what we need in '06 & '08.

abi said...

I'm not much of a Ford fan. True, he looks good by comparison to Nixon. But that's not saying much. And I think his pardon of Nixon was, if you'll pardon me, unpardonable.

He's also the man who, in the Warren Report, changed the position of John Kennedy's back wound from his back to his neck, which was necessary to make Arlen Specter's single-bullet-theory seem possible.

Rory Shock said...

and everybody looks good compared to bush ... but seriously I'm willing to be Gerald thinks w is a total fuckwad

thepoetryman said...

The wolves await
Licking obscurity
Awaiting you
To inch `neath
Your bridge
Your rock
Awaiting upon
Your neck-bent descent
And the full moon
As they might nosh
Upon the rodents
That worship you there.

Sing loud your praises!
Let God hear it!
For God's sake do!
Step into the moon!
It's light awaits you!
Bring your second coming warble!
Bring it out for all to hear!
Sing! Stomp! And shout! Again!
"War rocks! God rocks! Death reigns!”

“Death! Death! Death!" be your refrain!

Join them, Mr. President!
Join them!
Join them in thou holy anthem!
Rejoice in your own death!

Ron Nasty said...

I still got me a W.I.N. button in my cigar box of treasures. I wonder could I sell it on eBay?

Kathy said...

Lew, I've read that DeVos may be using Michigan as a springboard to the White House. If that should happen, expect to see lots more of the DeVos name around town. (Keep your antacid pills handy!)

Abi, I have mixed feelings about the pardon too, but I think most people are savvy enough to realize it's purely sympbolic. Nixon will always be seen as dishonest.

Rory! It was great to read your comment. I've wondered where you've been. I hope whatever kept you away from blogdom has resolved itself and all is okay.

Ron, from what I hear, a person can sell just about anything on E-bay, especially if it has an impression of the Virgin Mary or Jesus on it!