Wednesday, December 27, 2006

R.I.P. Gerald Ford

From the death of Lyndon Johnson in January of 1973, until Richard Nixon's resignation from office in August of 1974, there were no living former Presidents of the United States. When George W. Bush was sworn into office in January of 2001, there were 5 (Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton). With the passing of Gerald Ford, there are now 3.

Ford was, of course, the man who became President without ever being elected to an office in the executive branch of the government. A (de mortuis nil nisi bonum, but let's speak truth) squishy moderate, he was the minority leader in the House of Representatives in 1973 when Richard Nixon chose him to replace the disgraced-and-resigning Spiro Agnew in the Vice-Presidency. When Nixon himself was forced to resign a mere 10 months later, Ford ascended to the Presidency without ever having run on a national ticket, the first, and still only, man to do so.

Ford Trivia:
  • Considered by many to be the best athlete to have held the presidency, Ford developed a reputation as a physical klutz, a reputation that was greatly exacerbated by Chevy Chase's portrayal of him on the at-the-time brand-new Saturday Night Live.

  • Ford actually could have been the first American King, as his name at birth was Leslie King, but he was adopted when he was young, and given the name Ford.

  • Ford surpassed Ronald Reagan as the longest-living President just over a month ago. His death at age 93 years, 5 months and 12 days, is a new record for Presidents to shoot for.


He didn't serve long enough to have left a significant presidential legacy, at least not a legacy that was independent of the scandal that brought him into office. The major political decision of his brief term in office was his decision to pardon Nixon for any and all crimes that may have been committed during the Watergate affair. Opinions vary on whether that was a good decision for the country or not. One can argue that it saved the country much additional trauma - one can also argue that the healing would have been faster and stronger had Nixon faced a jury. I incline to the former position, but whichever position one takes, it seems likely that the pardon cost him many potential votes in his campaign against Jimmy Carter two years later.

Ford will, I believe, be remembered as a good and decent man. Not a special President, but one who stabilized the office, and the country, at a difficult and trying time.

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