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The serendipitous president

With the passing of Gerald R. Ford, I find myself reflecting on his presidency -- and realizing that I don't really remember too much about it. I was only nine when he left office; he's always been a historic figure rather than an actual memory.

Others are doing a far better job of eulogizing the man than I, so I'll just touch on a few things that they might overlook.

First off, I recall mentioning President Ford three times in my blogging. Once, after the death of President Reagan, I did bullet-points highlighting the careers of all then-living presidents. (I'll expand on them later.) Next, I lamented the naming of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier after him. Finally, I discovered a photo of him that I used as what I thought was a killer "who is this guy?" contest -- that lasted all of nine minutes. I figured no one would reconcile the jowly, balding old man with the fair-haired, buffed, shirtless sailor -- but "ironman" nailed it right out of the box.

(An aside: six of our last ten presidents -- every president from Kennedy to the first Bush, with the exception of Reagan -- all served in the United States Navy.)

Second, I remember Ford as being the second man to ascend to the presidency under a name other than his birth name. Ford was born "Leslie Lynch King, Jr.," but after a divorce and remarriage, his mother changed his name to reflect his stepfather. Similar circumstances also changed W. J. Blythe III into William Jefferson Clinton.

Now, for the obligatory kind words about the recently deceased.

Gerald Ford was pretty much precisely the perfect man to be president at the time of his accession. He was utterly free of any taint from the Watergate scandal that destroyed the Nixon administration. His long career in the House, and very amicable relationships with many members of Congress, helped heal the conflict between the branches of the government. His low-key manner eased many people's fear and distrust of the government.

And this is pure speculation on my part, but his public gaffes and missteps probably helped quite a bit, too. It reassured the people that the president was all too human, all too fallible, and it was safe to laugh again -- and laugh at the president -- without being reminded of the amazingly vindictive Nixon administration.

Ford also did a remarkable job as ex-president, continuing the long-established tradition of just quietly fading into the background, not second-guessing his successors and struggling to retain the limelight. Prior to Ford, only two presidents had deviated from that model -- and both of those were incredible exceptions. John Quincy Adams served for 17 years in the House of Representatives, becoming a major voice in the fight against slavery. And Willam Taft holds the distinction of being the only man to ever lead two branches of government in his life, having served as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after leaving the presidency.

I recall being dismayed when President Reagan accepted a million-dollar speaking engagement from the Japanese shortly after he left office. I thought that ex-presidents should be seen, but not heard -- and only rarely seen, at that. I think that the examples of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton are appalling, and wish they'd go away. I would also like to remind their supporters and defenders that President George W. Bush will be only 62 when he leaves office -- and not only does he come from long-lived parents, he's in considerably better physical health than any other president in some time. If he chooses to follow the Carter/Clinton precedent (which I doubt), he's likely to have a long, long time to enjoy it.

Ford, though, played the genial, amiable elder statesman role to the hilt. He played his golf. He showed up for certain ceremonial events, when called for -- but like he had over the rest of his life, never sought the limelight.

Ford will now be at the center of the limelight one last time, as a nation that rejected him 30 years ago now pays its last respects to one of the most decent men to ever hold the highest office in the land.

Rest in peace, Gerry. You did right by us. It just took us a while to realize just how well you did.


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Comments (5)

You may have only been nine... (Below threshold)
Doug:

You may have only been nine when he left office but that is one of the better assements of his life that I have seen.

A close friend met him once... (Below threshold)
Gianni:

A close friend met him once years ago, at the Big House, as he was on a recruiting visit to UM. Had about a 2 minute chat with him. Said he was just a nice, kind, decent man.

Is there a better epitath?

Nothing at all "decent" abo... (Below threshold)
Reaganite:

Nothing at all "decent" about a man who let the biggest, most unamerican criminal in our history off the hook. Nixon. Not to mention all the other turds who sprung up around then.

Nope, the guy was unelected, which in my book makes him an abortion for America. Nothing of note, just a necessary evil before the workings of Democracy and freedom again took over and the criminals were booted from office.

I, and countless other Americans could care less about the death of this old unelected official. He was never a real President.

While Ford followed traditi... (Below threshold)
LenS:

While Ford followed tradition and kept his mouth shut on the policies of his successors, he also milked his status for wealth. Instead of one big payment like the one Reagan got, he served on a bunch of corporate boards, getting the money in smaller chunks. He was the perfect celebrity director -- he gave the board a member with the most exclusive title in the world, ex-US President, in return for some stock and a few hundred thousand in fees. Best of all, he never rocked the boat.

To be honest, he wasn't much of a President. He let the leftists in the Democratic Party surrender in the Vietnam War and betray our allies. The communist march of successes that we often nail Carter for began under Ford. His economic policies were a continuation of the idiocies of Nixon and Johnson. He did nothing to fix the military's morale, training or equipment. About all he did do was fight to the death to keep Reagan out of the White House. He used every trick in the book to deny Reagan that nomination but then turned around and barely campaigned against Carter until the final few weeks. The media liked him because he was a Republican who acted like a Democrat and did little to interfere with Democratic power in the Congress.

In the end, a mediocre President between two bad ones.

I liked Gerald Ford as a pr... (Below threshold)
PeterS:

I liked Gerald Ford as a president and I never heard of it being a crime to try and make a living from being a former US President. Granting a pardon to Nixon was the right thing to do on his way out since it was done with the intentions of restoring honor to the Office of the President. Godspeed Mr. President.




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