Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford

I was about to write on James Brown when I heard our oldest President ever, Gerald Ford, had died. He'd been living in Rancho Mirage, California, about two hours east (with good traffic) from where I'm writing this now.

I have two connections to him. 1) He's the only President who attended my alma mater, Michigan. 2) He's the only President I've ever seen in person.

Where did I see him? When running for President, he appeared at a rally at the Macomb Mall, a few miles from where I grew up. It was pretty exciting, actually. I mean, a President's a President.

Ford is most famous for pardoning Richard Nixon before he was convicted of any crimes. This move may have cost him the 1976 election, and it certainly frustrated millions who wanted to see Nixon in the dock. But most now think it was the right thing to do. Nixon was gone, sometimes it's right to move on. Ford even got off a phrase that has become part of the lexicon: "our long national nightmare is over."

Though mocked for his alleged clumsiness, he was actually one of our most athletic President's. He was a center on Michigan's championship football team in the early 1930s (hence his nickname Gerald "Flippum Back" Ford).

Though born in Nebraska, he was a Michigan man, growing up in Grand Rapids and serving that district in Congress for many years. The state of Michigan honors him. There's the Gerald Ford Museum in Grand Rapids and the Gerald Ford Library in Ann Arbor. I've spent time in both, and have particularly fond memories of the Library.


Anonymous Bicentennial Dude said...

I've been hearing all morning that "pardoning Nixon" is what cost Ford the 1976 election. That is the accepted wisdom but I take the contrary view that the pardon actually had the effect of giving Ford a much better chance than he otherwise would have had against Carter.
It would have been very hard for Ford to win in 1976 in any case-The mid-70s were a time of bad news- Scandals, Vietnam, Gas Prices, Recesiion , Inflation, "we're no longer #1 and have begun to decline" etc... and the party in (Presidential) power is going to take the heat. If you had added into that equation, a trial of Richard Nixon with new scandalous headlines coming out every day- it would tipped the 76 election to the Dems in a landslide (1974 all over again). No matter how vigourously he may may prosecuted or condemned Nixon, Ford would have been tarred by the same brush as a Nixon appointee and 25+ year Washington Republican. Ford by getting the messy pardon out of the way (along with some % of the news stories) a month into his service made the election a referendum more on him than on Nixon and, klutz jokes aside, he came across as a regular moderately comptetent guy trying to make the best of a bad national situation. Carter at the time was perceived clean and untouched by dirty Washington politics (and as I recall had vague general positions ) and in the end probably appealed more to the national mood for a change in leaadership.
Although only a young teen, my memories of the 1976 election don't include much on the pardon. Maybe the numbers show that the pardon influenced some swing voters in what was a very tight race but I think without the pardon, Ford would have been wiped out (or replaced by Reagan as the candidate).

6:27 AM, December 27, 2006  
Blogger LAGuy said...

I agree the common belief that the pardon cost him the election is questionable. It was unpopular at the time, and his poll ratings were very low after he did it, but whether it was a significant factor during the election (especially when compared to what might have happened otherwise) is uncertain. (While we're at it, I don't think Bush the Elder raising taxes hurt him when he was up for reelection.)

I think the hardest thing Ford had to overcome was not the bad news (by the way, Vietnam was over by then), but the bad shape the Republican party was in. Recall Nixon had overwhelmingly won in 1972, taking 49 states, but Watergate made the country turn away from his party. (A bruising battle Ford had with Reagan for the nomination didn't help.)

Carter wasn't taken that seriously when he declared, but his timing was perfect--the public was looking for an honest outsider and he fit the bill. (And the primary system helped assure men in smoke-filled rooms didn't make the calls any more.) As he put it, "I will never lie to you."

Yet, even though Ford was 30 points behind in the polls after the Dems' convention, he slowly chipped away at the lead. By the election they were about even. Carter won by two percentage points, and if the election had been held a few weeks later, who knows?

9:56 AM, December 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real malaise of the 70s took place during the late 70s Carter years but the precursors were already in place during the Ford Administration. While American combat troops were out of Vietnam by the time Ford was President, South Vietnam fell to the Communists during the Ford years in 1975 [with the picture of the helicopter taking Americans off the rooftop in Saigon] and that news as much as anything seem to reinforce the feeling of failure throughout the decade.

In "A Time To Heal"- Gerald Ford's unfairly overlooked memoir, he made the point that the pardon had to happen early in his presidency so that Nixon would not be the focus of the 1976 election. Of course, he couched in terms of the country moving term, but the man had won 13 straight elections, rose to the leadership in the cutthroat politics of the House of Representatives & was no idiot (despite how he was portrayed).

10:31 AM, December 27, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

PJ guy: One of my childhood memories is of seeing Greald at Macomb Mall. My Mom took me and my brothers there. It was packed and over in about 10 seconds. It is wierd that I read your post when last week I talked about it with a few friends...

7:53 PM, June 03, 2009  

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