Gerald Ford, RIP

Few people regard Gerald Ford as little more than a footnote to a period of our history dominated by many great ideas, events, and movements important enough to be Forever Capitalized: the Great Society, the Oil Crisis, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Watergate, Vietnam, and Ed Muskie Crying Like A Little Girl.

President Ford largely put a stop to all that. Well, more or less. America’s withdrawal from Vietnam was done under his watch and Watergate effectively ended with the pardon he issued to Nixon. And he somehow managed to be sandwiched between two oil shocks without having to deal with it on his own. One sometimes posits how Ford would have handled it. Nixon handled it by dispatching Henry Kissinger to sucker punch (with less punch and more sucker) King Faisal; Jimmy Carter prayed.

Then again, Ford did have to deal with inflation. America has largely been able to ignore inflation as a political force ever since Reagan told Paul Volker to send the Fed home without any supper until interest rates were lower than his approval rating. Ford was happy to combat embedded economic problems with a half-baked public relations crusade. His entire anti-inflation campaign revolved around the rather dubious method of having people wear pins and bumper stickers labeled “Whip Inflation Now”—the obvious acronym being WIN, of course, something Ford specifically didn’t do in 1976.

One of the biggest injustices in the unreliable fusion of entertainment and politics regards Ford’s apparent clumsiness. Twice, of course, there are recorded videos of the President falling down a flight of steps, but this was a man who arguably was the fittest of the Presidents—he turned down offers to play professional football with Green Bay and Detroit to pursue a law degree (though, to be fair, turning down to play for the Lions is hardly cause for winning a Profile in Courage award). And it’s probably better to be known falling down a ski slope than being incapable of spelling common words or committing perjury in exchange for things you do at the afterprom.

Ford seemed an unlikely choice for President. Unlikely, indeed, since he was nobody’s choice for President. Ford has the unfortunate distinction of being the only President to not be elected, having replaced Spiro Agnew in the Vice President’s slot and taking over Nixon’s place when Nixon exited stage left. Ford was acutely aware of his status as an unelected president, unlike certain other current Presidents we’ve had.

And, of course, there was The Pardon. Ford’s presidency has more or less been effectively measured by this one single event. The action itself most likely cost Ford his full, elected term; many people wanted to see Nixon in prison, not in Yorba Linda playing Parcheesi with Chuck Rebozo. Me, personally, I had a vested interest in absolving Dick Nixon, because in a mentally unstable moment I chose to write a paper in college about how Nixon was guilty of crimes and gross misjudgment, but other presidents (namely his immediate predecessor) had gotten away with much, much more and had a far greater impact on political society than Nixon’s aim of defeating the shadow of nobody in the general election.

Alas, literally a week after I submitted the paper (and, I am at pains to point out, before it was graded) the National Archives (or whatever Luciferian department handles such things) started releasing the transcripts of some of his tapes, my paper unknowingly being timed around the 25th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation. And, of course, the tapes were filled to the brim with full confessions of everything from the ITT scandal to the Manson murders, making my paper a walking, talking laughing stock of the History Department, I’m sure. The tapes generally revolved around the following sentiments:

Kissinger: So what do you think?
Nixon: I think the [expletive deleted] communists down at [expletive deleted] State need to get their [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] out of their [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] before that [expletive deleted] Gene McCarthy [expletive deleted] the whole [expletive deleted] thing up. Thank goodness that [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] Colson in the [expletive deleted] before the [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] Jew [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted] [expletive deleted].
Kissinger: I love you.

And so my brief, torrid love affair with the ghost of Richard M. Nixon ended. But I couldn’t bear myself to hate the man who pardoned him. Ford was one of those people who just seemed to be a genuinely nice guy placed into a position of absolute chaos. Certainly, he wasn’t perfect—the passive greenlighting of Indonesia to play marbles through East Timor being most likely the biggest demerit to his term, and even that was something Ford has relatively little influence over. And, to be sure, he punched Nixon’s meal ticket after the haymaker he landed on America, and he seemed deliberately unaware of the raised eyebrows at how painfully inappropriate this deal-that-never-was was.

When it is all said and done, though, there were few people who actively thought Gerald Ford was anything more than a nice guy who did an adequate job, given the situation he was plunked down in. If anything else, he proved the fact that a genuinely decent human being could become President, despite the electoral process’s best efforts to prevent otherwise. And that’s a real [expletive deleted] shame. Ahem. Pardon me.

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