As you surely must know former president Gerald Ford has died at 93. There’s no shortage of round-ups of commentary from the Right Blogosphere on the occasion so I thought it might be interesting to post a round-up of Left Blogospheric reaction.
Gerald Ford always seemed like a nice guy who was dressed in somebody else’s suit; one that didn’t fit him quite right. Up until Ford, all of the presidents of my lifetime had been larger-than-life tragic figures from the doomed American Royalty of John F. Kennedy to that Texas-sized cowboy caricature Lyndon Johnson followed by the Double-Nutty Evil Ripple of Richard M. Nixon. After living through all of that, America needed a break and there was Gerald Ford, the bookmark president acting as a placeholder while we caught our breath and began to think about what type of country we wanted to be again. I’ve always believed that, from the moment he pardoned Richard Nixon, his own chance of actually being elected to the job was pretty much doomed, and so for several years he sort of became our beloved bumbling uncle who, for some reason, crazy ladies wanted to kill.
Robert Rouse has perhaps the nicest biographical retrospective on Ford I’ve seen so far.
In short, despite his brief, strange tenure, he deserves more than just notations about his accidental appointment. He served his country in difficult times, to the best of his ability. And he made hard decisions that may have cost him an election, but that were best for his country.
I will confess that the 1976 election was the closest I ever came to voting for a Republican for president. I didn’t have a strong opinion about either
VicePresident Ford or his opponent, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Yes, I had been furious when Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. And yes, I had been startled at Ford’s famous “Poland gaffe,” in which Ford declared “There is no Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe” during a debate with Carter.
But after Nixon, Mr. Ford had seemed as sincere and un-machiavellian as a puppy. After Nixon, it was a relief to have a president whose worst flaw was that he tripped a lot. And although Mr. Ford’s brief tenure in office seemed unremarkable, “unremarkable” was a great relief after Vietnam and Watergate. Although I voted for Carter it wouldn’t have broken my heart had Mr. Ford won.
I switched on CNN in time to watch our current President describe Mr. Ford in glowing terms, as a decent man, an honorable man who served his country and helped us through trying times. His words were sincere, but incomplete. The analysts will no doubt fill in the rest, and the nation’s media are already saying “he saved a nation,” and quoting that famous speech in which Ford, newly sworn in as President following the resignation of Richard Nixon, proclaimed, “Our long national nightmare is over.”
But it wasn’t. Nixon left in disgrace, but Cheney and Rumsfeld were in the wings. And they would return. We needed one more statement from Mr. Ford, but now he is dead.
Give him this: he put John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.
One gets the sense from time to time that George W. Bush has become such a horrible president largely out of a desire to avoid Gerald Ford’s fate; to avoid becoming someone who will go down in history most likely as the answer to a trivia question rather than remembered for dramatic events he initiated. Naturally, hundreds of presidential “ranking” systems in which only the ones who oversee something big manage to rate further encourage this line of thinking. Turns out to not actually work so well as a governing philosophy. There are worse fates than mediocrity.
As someone born after Gerald Ford’s presidency, my sense of his tenure is more shaped by history books than personal experience and memory. In hindsight, his decision to pardon his predecessor, Richard Nixon, appears to have been the right one, even if at the time it cost him politically. And although he was thoroughly a conservative, he seems to have been someone who treated his political adversaries with respect and genuinely fought to better America.
Ford doomed any hope of a legitimate election to the office by signing a full pardon for Nixon, though the economy at the time he was running sucked beyond belief — inflation was 7%, the country was moving into recession (I actually remember the ridiculous “Whip Inflation Now” campaign and buttons urging people to basically will the economy into health.
Pandagon goes on to note Ford’s support for gay rights issues.
(of Ford’s pardoning of Nixon)
A courageous act? I don’t think so. You decide. Here’s a Time Magazine article from August, 1974. Here is a 1993 interview with President Ford, with quotes from Donald Rumsfeld, who was one of his Chiefs of Staff.
TTD has a good, analytical post that is impossible to excerpt properly.
I suspect today will include plenty of debate about whether Ford was wrong to pardon Nixon, speculation about whether there was some kind of “deal” that may have elevated Ford in exchange for a promise to issue that pardon, and consideration of Ford’s controversial decision to back the 1975 Helsinki Accords, but I think it’s also noteworthy that Ford was the last moderate Republican president.
As the GOP shifted further and further to the right over the last generation, Ford, who was not considered a particularly progressive Republican in the 1970s, looked less and less conservative. Indeed, the former president and his wife both acknowledged in the 1990s that they were pro-choice, and more recently, expressed their support for gay marriage.
Upon joining the Advisory Board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a group of moderate Republicans hoping to drag the party to the left by more than a few degrees, Ford said, “I have always believed in an inclusive policy in welcoming gays and others into the party.”
I suspect that these positions will tarnish his memory in the eyes of some of today’s Republican leaders and activists, but that’s a shame. The GOP would be wise to honor Ford’s tolerant, inclusive approach.