27 December 2006 by Published in: General musings 5 comments

John F. Kennedy was president of the United States when I was born in March 1961.  I was 2 1/2 when JFK was assassinated, and I have no memories of him at all, other than a very vague recollection of seeing his body being carried on a horse-drawn caisson on his way to his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.  I was 7 when Lyndon Johnson left office.  I have some memories of LBJ, most notably his big ears and Texas drawl.  Most of those memories are associated with the space program; like most kids who grew up in the 1960’s, I was fascinated by the space program.

I have lots of memories of Nixon.  I remember the telephone call to the Apollo 11 astronauts.  I particularly remember the trip to China and the meetings with Chou en-Lai and Mao Tse Tung.  I remember the trip to Moscow and the meeting with Brezhnev.  And I remember Watergate. 

I was 13 years old on the night of August 9, 1974.  I had been following the development of the Watergate scandal with as much interest as a 13-year-old could muster, but I was always keenly aware of the importance of history.  I knew that something important–something unprecedented–was going to happen that warm summer night, and I remember sitting on the living room floor with my battery-operated cassette tape recorder, tape recording Richard M. Nixon’s resignation speech.  The next day–my father’s 54th birthday–I watched his farewell speech to his staff, and then watched him climb aboard Marine 1 to fly away. 

I then watched as Vice President Ford swore the oath of office and became the 38th President of the United States.  And I heard him declare, “Our long national nightmare is over.”  I was fifteen, not quite sixteen, when Jerry Ford left the White House 893 days after swearing that oath. 

Gerald R. Ford was a decent, honest man who stood at the threshold of history that day, the star player in the country’s greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War.  He had never sought the office he took, and he was keenly aware of the fact that he had not been elected to it.  After the secrecy and corruption of the Nixon Administration, he was a breath of fresh air.  When he left office, he had restored faith in the presidency and in our constitution. 

Many believe he lost his re-election bid due to the controversial pardon he gave Richard Nixon.  But history has proven that Jerry Ford was right: the prosecution of the ex-president would have prevented the wounds from healing and would have perpetuated the harm done by Nixon.  What Ford did–and he understood that it would be controversial–was an act of conscience and an act of courage, and he was right.  In 1997, he was awarded a Profiles in Courage Award for his act, a recognition of how right he was.

My antipathy for Skippy Bush is well-known and need not be repeated here.  I normally wouldn’t agree with him even if he said today was Tuesday.  However, today, he got it right, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.  Ford, said Bush, was a “man of complete integrity who led our country with common sense and kind instincts” and helped restore faith in the presidency after the Watergate scandal.

“On Aug. 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office,” Bush said. “He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most.”  Bush correctly said that Ford “reflected the best in America’s character,” and then concluded, quite correctly, “Our 38th president will always have a special place in our nation’s history.”

I doubt that Gerald Ford will be remembered as a great president.  As Brian Dirck correctly notes, he deserves better than to be lumped in with the Chester A. Arthurs and Martin Van Burens of history.  We’ve had much worse presidents than Jerry Ford, not the least of whom is the present occupant of the White House.  At the end of the day, Gerald Ford was an honest, open, humble public servant who restored the nation’s faith in its government at a moment of unparalleled constitutional crisis.  He was a loving husband, father, and grandfather, and while he may not have been a great president, he was, in the end, a great man.  And that’s not such a bad legacy to leave behind.

Rest in peace, Mr. President.  You’ve earned it, and the love and respect of your fellow countrymen.


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  1. Dave Kelly
    Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 5:39 pm

    God, I wish you hadn’t started with this “where was I” track. Makes me feel the weight of years. I was a Platoon Leader at Ft Campbell Ky. at the time.

    Being somewhat cynical about our political past I never quite got incensed at the smarminess of the Nixon underbelly. FDR, a godly Democrat used Hoover’s FBI as shamlessly as Nixon used his confederates – they just didn’t get caught.

    First thought of Ford is how Chevy Chase made a living on SNL doing pratfalls every week in Presidential routines.

    Funny how this subject dovetails with your piece on A Hamilton recently. The Federalists died of Hamiltonian arrogance. The 1804 election pitted Adams against Jefferson in the ugliest catfight for power ever conducted in our politics. The Alien and Sedition Acts were employed to arrest Democrats. Jefferson got in such a tizzy he was roaring about Democratic states seceding from the Union (Madison muzzled Jefferson and just managed to get him made President in spite of himself).

    Ford brought humanity and a sense of proletarian contact back to the oval office, post Nixon.

    Too bad it wasn’t quite enough. We got a sniffling, liberal whiner for our next fearless leader; and regretted the absence of Ford.

  2. Sean Dail
    Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 5:50 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with your comments, Eric. Hopefully, those of us who do recognize what Gerald Ford meant to this country in the mid-70s will make sure that he isn’t lost to history as just another mediocre president – or, as is being reported today, our only unelected president. He deserves much better than that.

  3. Lance Herdegen
    Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 9:45 pm

    You got it right, Eric. I spent many weeks covering Gerald Ford for UPI those troubling days and he was always quick with a smile and a quote if needed. He was very Midwestern in manner and thought and did just the right thing at a time when the nation’s confidence needed restoring. He also was an OK poker player, but that is a story for another day. Rest in Peace, Mr. President.

  4. Wed 27th Dec 2006 at 10:52 pm

    I was also two when Kennedy was assassinated . . .

    Here is the quote that I like about Ford: he “helped restore the presidency when it needed some restoring.”

  5. Steve Basic
    Thu 28th Dec 2006 at 12:01 am


    The thing that I remember about that summer of 1974 was staying inside watching the events as they transpired, and was immersed in the coverage. Back in them thar days, there was no such thing as Cable TV, and that was all that was on TV here in the NYC area.

    I saw an interview today with the speechwriter who wrote that famous line about our national nightmare finally being over. President Ford at first balked about saying that, but the speechwriter said he would quit if Ford did not say that, and wisely, he came around and agreed that it was something that had to be included in his remarks to the country that August day.

    To me he was a fine man, and I will be watching the events unfold here the next week, and pay tribute to this distinguished American.

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,


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