Thursday, December 28, 2006
A few words on Gerald Ford, 1913-2006
By now, most of you are aware that ex-President Gerald Ford died yesterday. He was 93.
To my mind, Gerald Ford's presidency, which capped a lifetime of public service is proof in G-d's providence when it comes to the United States of America.
As our only unelected president, Gerald Ford inherited a mess that would have daunted most politicians. He took over after Richard Nixon's resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal, when the country had been ginned up to a frenzy by the national press and a president they loathed (and who loathed them in return) had been forced out of office, partly by his own misdeeds and partly by the unremitting press coverage. Unlike today, there were no alternative news sources and the big three networks and a couple of major newspapers pretty much governed what the American people saw and heard.
Faith in the American government and in politicians was at an all time low. One of my friends remembers being in Paris at the time and hearing people talk excitedly about `un coup de etat aux Etats-Unis.'
President Ford stepped into the wind without a second thought. By the simple force of his essentially honest, decent persona, he calmed the country down and reassured both our friends and our enemies that our system worked, that the country would go on and that our institutions would survive. That was no small accomplishment, and there are any number of people who could have had that job who would have failed utterly.
He was, in simple terms, exactly the right man in the right place at the right time.
What's more, he had the personal courage to risk that achievement by issuing a pardon to his predecessor, Nixon `for any crimes and misdemeanors he may have committed while president.'
I was quite young, but I still remember the firestorm that touched off. It undoubtedly cost Gerald Ford the 1976 election, and I'm sure President Ford was quite aware that it might end his political career when he did it. To him, his personal ambition came second to what he felt was best for the country - to, in his words, `put our long national nightmare behind us.' And in fact, it was exactly the right thing to do.
One doesn't find that kind of selflessness or heroism often in politicians.
Lately, Bob Woodward has surfaced with an interview he did with the ex-president in which he apparently voiced some major criticism of the Bush Administration's handling of Iraq. According to Woodward, Ford did so with the provisio that those remarks would only be released after his death.
He apparently wanted to be on record about something he felt strongly about, but had too much class to be seen as getting mileage or personal publicity by meddling and criticizing a sitting president, a tradition that all ex-presidents followed until recently. That in itself should provide a yardstick on how different he was from two of the men that followed him in office.