Gerald R. Ford 1913-2006
When I turned eighteen in August of 1976, I had every intention of voting against Jerry Ford in the November presidential election; Ford was the hand-picked successor of the totally disgraced Richard Milhaus Nixon and I wanted Nixon (and everything and everyone connected with Nixon) out of my life - forever. I procrastinated, however, and didn't register in time to vote on Election Day; the novelty of being able to drink legally having temporarily overtaken my life, rendering all other civic obligations to the back burner - Hey! I had priorities, dammit! Although I was pleased with Jimmy Carter's victory that year, I also felt bad for the outgoing President Ford - the man's essential goodwill and decency were obvious to me even at so young an age. I liked Jerry Ford! I still do.
Earlier this year, on 14 July, I wrote a piece on this blog called "A Message To My Republican Friends" where I argued that, with two or three exceptions, most of the Republicans who followed Abraham Lincoln into the White House were second-rate mediocrities - Ford was listed as one of those exceptions:
"Gerald R. Ford...has, sadly, been under-rated by historians. It should be remembered that, while he accomplished little in the two and a half years allotted to him, he was a good and decent man who did much to heal the nation after the twin traumas of Vietnam and Watergate. He should have been elected in his own right in 1976".
Had he been elected in '76, we might all have been spared the economic hangover of the so-called "Reagan Revolution" all these decades later, not to mention the nightmare administration of Reagan's political heir, George W. Bush. The greatest irony of all is the undeniable fact that he would have won that election had he not been challenged from the right during the primary season by none other than Ronald Reagan, himself. The pounding that Ford took from the Gipper so damaged him in the general election, he would be defeated by an obscure former governor from Georgia. In hindsight, the implications of Ford's loss thirty years ago are deep and disturbing. Four years later, in 1980, the so-called "Grand Old Party" turned its back forever on the moderation and vision that was personified in the form of Gerald Rudolph Ford.
That is not to say that his record is without blemishes. In all of the discussion pertaining to the man's legacy that have been going on in the media since the announcement of his death late Tuesday evening, I've yet to hear mention the deplorable one-man crusade he waged in the sixties as a member of the House to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, an FDR appointee and one of the greatest jurists of the twentieth century. His sins of omission during the Boston school desegregation riots of September 1975 can only be described as shameful. He had a chance to show some real moral leadership and might have used the bully pulpit of his office to inspire people to do the right thing. To his ever-lasting disgrace, he didn't.
And let's not forget the fact that no one is more responsible for the careers of Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld than Gerald R. Ford.
But his all-too-human shortcomings aside, the passing of President Ford this week at the age of ninety-three is a bittersweet reminder of what used to be as far as the American political landscape is concerned. Let's face it, we slept a little sounder at night knowing that Jerry Ford was in the White House. For the first time in a long, long while, there was a bona fide good guy in charge of our government. Many of us couldn't even remember the last time that had been the case. You always knew that, even if you didn't agree with his decisions, he came to them with the best of intentions. Many people (myself, included) hit the roof when he pardoned Dick Nixon a month after taking office in September of 1974. Thirty-two years of historical hindsight has shown us that it was probably the right thing to do.
Yes, folks, there used to be such a thing as a moderate Republican politician; they could be found everywhere and, although kinda goofy in one or two aspects, they were essentially good - if at times misguided people. It can not be denied that President Ford, as essentially conservative as he was, would not even be able get the GOP nomination today. He would be dismissed as a "maverick liberal" - things have changed that much. Three decades later, the corruption and ideological extremism that has overtaken the GOP has damaged that organization for all time and eternity. For over a quarter of a century, they have waged an unrelenting war on the poor and the middle class that has all but decimated the potential of working people in this country to earn a decent living. Gerald Ford's political fate was sealed in the spring and summer of 1976 when the radical right forced him to come face to face with the future of the Republican Party. Well, the future has come and gone. From the vantage point of late December 2006, it is obvious to every thinking person that the so-called "Party of Lincoln" is beyond saving.
Sure, Jerry Ford wasn't perfect but he was a good man and you always knew, deep in your heart, that he was trying to do the right thing - that's what you want from your leaders - you want them to have a finely tuned moral compass. In the final analysis, that's all that really matters. God rest his soul.
Pray for peace.
Photograph of George Harrison and Gerry Ford
taken in December 1974
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