Wednesday, December 27, 2006

My President Ford

My President Ford
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
December 27, 2006

I cast my first vote for president for Gerald R. Ford. Granted, I was a 10-year-old 4th grader attending the Edward Walton Elementary School in Springfield, NJ at the time, but my first vote nonetheless. I even have the picture to prove it – there I am with a traditional conventioneer’s hat and shirt that said “vote,” as I cast my ballot – photographed for the Springfield Leader – a local newspaper not unlike one I worked for years later. (I guess I was a hat man even then.)

President Ford, nee Leslie Lynch King, Jr., an Omaha, NE native, had a calming presence in the White House presiding over a number of challenging issues – the end of Vietnam and restoring dignity to the presidency at the very pinnacle of his administration. I had to mention the president’s birth name as I learned this fact from my father, who unfortunately also passed away this year in August.

At a very young age, thanks to my parents, I learned the presidents forward and backward – even being carted out like a circus monkey at parties to demonstrate such precocious talents. (It was enough to drive anyone to drink.) Thus, began my love affair with all things political that continues to this day – which is also enough to make one reach for the bottle.

President Ford died on December 26, ironically on the anniversary of the death of President Harry S Truman (1972), also one of my favorite presidents. How is it, people have asked, that, having served fewer than 900 days, Gerald Ford could be one of my favorite presidents.

Gerald Ford was an every-man – rising up from humble beginnings, graduating from a state school – University of Michigan, playing football for the Wolverines and was even named team MVP his senior year. As a Yale law student, Mr. Ford worked as an assistant football coach to help pay his way.

After serving in the U. S. Navy during World War II, Mr. Ford returned to Michigan, won election to Congress in 1948 and 12 subsequent reelections from his western Michigan district. Congressman Ford rose to the rank of House Minority Leader prior to being tabbed as Vice President by President Richard M. Nixon upon the resignation of Spiro T. Agnew.

“Our long national nightmare is over,” said the newly sworn in President Ford regarding Watergate. President Ford humbly pushed forward with the daunting task of leading a nation that, for the most part, lacked trust in its leadership. President Ford had the wisdom and a sense of clarity to understand the necessity that his presidency required of him to restore dignity to the office he held and to bridge the chasm left in the wake of the Nixon resignation and the next national election.
President Ford had the courage to issue the pardon of his predecessor that sealed his own fate. This was an unnecessary pardon, yet one issued out of necessity as President Ford stood on the precipice of both past and future.

I do not believe the Ford pardon of Nixon was required as the 37th president had not been convicted of anything. I also do not believe, as many do believe, that said pardon spoiled Mr. Ford’s chance of election in 1976. No, no, no – Gerald Ford was politically doomed on August 9, 1974 upon taking the oath of office making him the 38th president of the United States.

Simply by being a Republican, President Ford’s days were numbered. Trailing by 30-plus points following the GOP convention in 1976 after a tumultuous primary campaign against Ronald Reagan, President Ford began the long march back that very nearly resulted in his defeating Jimmy Carter. But Carter won not because he was a better candidate; not because he was a better campaigner, but because he wasn’t a Republican.

The modern conservative movement should be thanking G-d for President Ford. Ronald Reagan could have been the GOP nominee in ’76, lost to Carter and fallen into political obscurity.

History will serve well the man who called his presidency what many understood it to be, “my stewardship,” said Ford during his January 12, 1977 State of the Union address, along with “our Constitution works,” and it is the “bedrock of our freedom.”

President Ford did, in fact, restore dignity to the American Presidency. How he would fare as a moderate in today’s Republican Party is not terribly discernable, but in that final address before the nation, President Ford called for “peace with honor.” “We can remain first in peace only if we are never second in defense.”

To paraphrase American Indian philosophy, Gerald Ford left the presidency better than he found it.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and political consultant living in Alexandria, VA.

[This column appeared in the Alexandria Times.]