Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gerald Ford: the last good Republican

A good president; a fine and decent man
On May 3, the National Statuary Hall, which houses bronze statues of notable figures from each of the 50 states, introduced a new statue in honor of the 38th President of the United States, Gerald Ford.

President Nixon appointed Ford to the vice-presidency when Nixon's Vice-President, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign amid charges of extortion, tax fraud, bribery, and conspiracy.  When Nixon himself resigned, on August 9, 1974, Gerald Ford became the first President who had never stood for election on a national ticket.  No one had ever voted for him on the national level.

The country was in a bad way, back then.  The Watergate scandal had rocked le monde politique.  Inflation was running at 11%.  Ho Chi Minh was closing in on Saigon.  Disruptions to foreign oil supplies sparked an energy crisis .  (Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose, eh?

I remember the night Nixon resigned.  Mom and I spent that evening watching the little rabbit-eared television in our family room in the house on Doughton Street in Salem.  I was 12 years old at the time, and already I had made up my mind about Republicans.  But Gerry Ford seemed different.  As he spoke to reporters that night, he seemed measured, calm, and good-hearted.  

It turns out that my intuition was right.  President Ford was a stolid, reliable presence for Americans when we really needed it.  He was conscientious and honest.

During his 2 year presidency, Ford survived two assassination attempts, signed the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, which established special education for children with special needs, responded forcefully to an act of piracy by Cambodia's Khmer Rouge (the Mayaguez Incident), and continued the détente initiatives between the US and the Soviet Union which Nixon had initiated.

President Ford took a lot of ribbing from the national media.  They often portrayed him as an oafish ex-athlete. (Ford had played center for the Michigan Wolverines football team in college).  They ridiculed his Whip Inflation Now (WIN)  initiative (which probably deserved a little ridicule, truthfully).  But I always felt that they were unfair to him.

The biggest political mistake that Ford made as president was indisputably his pardon of Nixon.  It proved disastrous for him.  Many people believe that pardon cost him the 1976 election, when he lost to President Carter.  (Ford and Carter later became fast friends.  President Carter delivered a eulogy at Ford's funeral.)

It is hard to imagine that a moderate like Gerry Ford (who, in the 70s was considered a staunch conservative) would win much support in today's Republican party.  Too bad.  The stridency and hysteria of the modern Republican party precludes the possibility of noble persons like Gerald Ford contributing to the welfare of our country.

President Ford passed in 2006.  I'm glad that, 5 years later, our nation chooses to honor his memory.

No comments: