Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"I am a Ford, not a Lincoln"

Nobody failed to get the joke.

Here's some from the WaPo on the passing of Gerald Ford, 38th President of the United States and the only one never elected:

In the 2 1/2 years of his presidency, Ford ended the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, helped mediate a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Egypt, signed the Helsinki human rights convention with the Soviet Union and traveled to Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East to sign an arms limitation agreement with Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president. Ford also sent the Marines to free the crew of the Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant vessel that was captured by Cambodian communists.

On the domestic front, he faced some of the most difficult economic conditions since the Great Depression, with the inflation rate approaching 12 percent. Chronic energy shortages and price increases produced long lines and angry citizens at gas pumps. In the field of civil rights, the sense of optimism that had characterized the 1960s had been replaced by an increasing sense of alienation, particularly in inner cities. The new president also faced a political landscape in which Democrats held large majorities in both the House and the Senate.

What I remember Ford for was the "WIN" buttons he advocated for the nation. He wore one pinned to himself. WIN stood for "Whip Inflation Now."

This of course demonstrated Ford's understanding of monetary policy. Even my dad -- no financial whiz himself -- laughed at the idiocy of a lapel button helping the nation's economic ills.

More excerpts from the NYT:

He was a man more fundamental than flashy, more immutable than immodest. He served undefeated through 13 elections to the House of Representatives and rose to be its Republican leader, yet in 25 years in Congress he did not write a major piece of legislation. He was overwhelmingly confirmed as vice president, the first to be appointed under the 25th Amendment, yet he owed his selection by Nixon to the likelihood that he would prove inoffensive in the job.

The Warren Commission. Ford is at right.

Ford's presidency was an extension of his own political personality: reactive rather than activist, instinctive instead of intellectual, humanistic but within the fiscal limits of conservative dogma.

(Jerald) terHorst, the biographer, puzzled over the seeming contradiction between the president's personal and professional philosophies: "The problem with him — he doesn't like to be kidded about it — but the fact is, this guy would, if he saw a schoolkid in front of the White House who needed clothing, if he was the right size, he'd give him the shirt off his back, literally. Then he'd go right in the White House and veto the school lunch bill."

John Hersey, after spending a week in close observation of the president, wrote in The New York Times Magazine of April 20, 1975: "What is it in him? Is it an inability to extend compassion far beyond the faces directly in view? Is it a failure of imagination? Is it something obdurate he was born with, alongside the energy and serenity?"

Chief of staff Dick Cheney and Ford '76 chairman James Baker with the president (announcing his bid for re-election from the golf course). Again, a personal aside:

Ford ran for election in 1976, narrowly defeating a vigorous primary challenge from former California governor Ronald Reagan. During the election season in 1975 Reagan gave a speech at a dinner restaurant in Beaumont, Texas where I worked as a busboy. I had been promoted to waiter solely for the occasion since we were short-staffed, and just minutes prior to the event we all struck for an extra .25 an hour (management caved to our demands). I was 16 years old, an active Optimist Club oratorical contest participant, and as the old actor addressed the two hundred attendees for 45 minutes, I stood at the back of the room and listened, enrapt.

The room was completely still. No one coughed, not one fork clinked against a plate.

That was the night I became a Republican. Reagan fell short of the nomination of course, but my first presidential ballot was cast in 1976 for Jerry Ford.

Rumsfeld, Ford, Cheney. From the AP:

When Agnew resigned in a bribery scandal in October 1973, Ford was one of four finalists to succeed him: Texan John Connally, New York's Nelson Rockefeller and California's Ronald Reagan.

"Personal factors enter into such a decision," Nixon recalled for a Ford biographer in 1991. "I knew all of the final four personally and had great respect for each one of them, but I had known Jerry Ford longer and better than any of the rest.

"We had served in Congress together. I had often campaigned for him in his district," Nixon continued. But Ford had something the others didn't: he would be easily confirmed by Congress, something that could not be said of Rockefeller, Reagan and Connally.

And this:

While Ford had not sought the job, he came to relish it. He had once told Congress that even if he succeeded Nixon he would not run for president in 1976. Within weeks of taking the oath, he changed his mind.

He was undaunted even after the two attempts on his life in September 1975. Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a 26-year-old follower of Charles Manson, was arrested after she aimed a semiautomatic pistol at Ford on Sept. 5 in Sacramento, Calif. A Secret Service agent grabbed her and Ford was unharmed.

Seventeen days later, Sara Jane Moore, a 45-year-old political activist, was arrested in San Francisco after she fired a gun at the president. Again, Ford was unhurt.

And this:

In office, Ford's living tastes were modest. When he became vice president, he chose to remain in the same Alexandria, Va., home — unpretentious except for a swimming pool — that he shared with his family as a congressman.

After leaving the White House, however, he took up residence in the desert resort of Rancho Mirage, picked up $1 million for his memoir and another $1 million in a five-year NBC television contract, and served on a number of corporate boards. By 1987, he was on eight such boards, at fees up to $30,000 a year, and was consulting for others, at fees up to $100,000. After criticism, he cut back on such activity.

Ford was also the subject of parody for his clumsiness, both physical and verbal. Chevy Chase made his initial fame by portraying the president as a chronic stumblebum on 'Saturday Night Live'. LBJ described the House minority leader as unable "to chew gum and walk at the same time", a phrase that entered pop culture as the generic description of an idiot.

But Ford very likely was the perfect man for the job in August of 1974, when the United States was suffering its most extreme constitutional crisis. Even Ford's pardon of Nixon, which cost him re-election, was viewed in hindsight as the tonic for the nation's psychological ills.

Godspeed to Gerald Ford and prayers of condolences to all of his family.

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