Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford Dies at 93

Technorati Tags: , , ,

I have nothing much to say about former President Gerald Ford's death at 93, but others do. So here is a round-up:

Steve Benen thinks that Pres. Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, which has earned him much criticism over the years, should take second place at this point to the fact that Ford was the last moderate Republican president:

As the GOP shifted further and further to the right over the last generation, Ford, who was not considered a particularly progressive Republican in the 1970s, looked less and less conservative. Indeed, the former president and his wife both acknowledged in the 1990s that they were pro-choice, and more recently, expressed their support for gay marriage.

Upon joining the Advisory Board of the Republican Unity Coalition, a group of moderate Republicans hoping to drag the party to the left by more than a few degrees, Ford said, "I have always believed in an inclusive policy in welcoming gays and others into the party."

I suspect that these positions will tarnish his memory in the eyes of some of today's Republican leaders and activists, but that's a shame. The GOP would be wise to honor Ford's tolerant, inclusive approach.

BooMan observes that, although Ford himself was a "flawed but good" man, he was surrounded by people -- both Nixon holdovers and his own appointees -- whose malign influence is still very much felt today:

Ford's brief stint as President came at a pivotal time in our nation's history and in many ways he failed to heal the nation and, in particular, the Republican Party. The reactionary tendencies of the Nixon administration were not so much uprooted as put on ice. Some of his most important advisors, like his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his Director of Central Intelligence George Herbert Walker Bush, and his chiefs of staff Alexander Haig and Dick Cheney, would come back to haunt the nation.

Matthew Yglesias contrasts Ford's reputation as the president who did nothing noteworthy to George W. Bush's obsession with being remembered by history for acts of greatness -- and concludes: "There are worse fates than mediocrity."

Joe Gandelman has his usual incredibly comprehensive sampling of commentary from the blogosphere, and from the media. He notes that both Ford and his wife, Betty, were well-liked on a personal level during his presidency -- and that even after Ford lost his bid to be elected in his own right (largely because of his Nixon pardon), Betty Ford continued to be enormously popular among the American people for her genuineness, candor, and openness about her family's problems with substance abuse and her own mastectomy.

Pam's House Blend has an interesting retrospective with many details about Ford's support for gay rights.

Bruce Kesler at Democracy Project opposed the movement in the early 1970s to give amnesty to draft evaders (he is a Vietnam veteran who was enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972). Kesler compares Ford's Nixon pardon to his stand on the amnesty issue, and also contrasts the latter to Carter's position:

Regarding the pardon of President Nixon, most see the need for this healing, with Nixon having paid the price of loss of office being seen as adequate punishment. Some on the Left see a lost opportunity to further damn the electorate that overwhelmingly elected him. These critics revile Nixon, and Ford, for seeking a "peace with honor" finale to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. They ignore the consequences of their post-Watergate abandonment of U.S. pledges of aid to South Vietnam, including the death and concentration camps suffered by millions, and the encouragement to adversaries elsewhere against a weak-willed America that continues to this day.

To get a better appreciation of the arguments, one might consider the Ford and Carter approaches to amnesty and pardon for Vietnam era draft dodgers and deserters. Ford offered a healing plan that was consistent with America's post-war treatment of draft evaders and deserters, conditioned by pledge of allegiance to America and two-year's service. The Left held out for an unconditional pardon, which they largely got from Carter.

I was part of this debate at the time. In the March 3, 1972 The Daily Pennsylvanian, I wrote an op-ed in the University of Pennsylvania newspaper (where I was a post-Vietnam service grad student) opposed to unconditional amnesty. It caught the eye of Freedom House, where an expanded version was published in the March-April 1973 Freedom at Issue magazine. This caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times, who reprinted it in their Sunday, March 25, 1973 opinion section. (My piece was given twice the space as the opposing view by Jean-Paul Sartre!)

I noted that a Gallup poll in 1972 found only 7% in favor of unconditional amnesty. I showed that most of the unconditional amnesty supporters came from a "premise of intolerance. Not only are the evaders and deserters to be welcomed back, but they are to be welcomed as heroic resisters of a nefarious policy of purposeful genocide."

Tons of details about Gerald Ford's foreign policy at Informed Comment, where Juan Cole provides readers with news clippings from his files, with an emphasis, for obvious reasons, on Ford's policies in the Middle East. Here is a particularly interesting one:

January 18, 1975. The Economist reports that Ford warned that American support for Israel cannot be taken for granted.

' Asked if there were any limits on America's commitment to Israel, he replied:
It so happens that there is a substantial relationship at the present time between our national security interests and those of Israel. But in the final analysis we have to judge what is in our national interest above any and all other considerations. '

The Economist noted that many Americans felt that Israel could hardly expect to get peace if it continued to sit on land it occupied from Arab states in 1967, and implied that they could not see why they should pay various sorts of price for Israeli expansionism and intransigence.

Bulworth at No More Mister Nice Blog mentions Ford's 30-year friendship with Jimmy Carter:

... Ford's one of those Republicans I always wanted to like. I don't remember Watergate (I was eight) or his pardoning of Nixon, but I have vague memories of the 1976 election. Even at that age, I was the lone Democrat in my elementary church school class mock Ford/Carter election. In later years Ford went on to co-author a number of op-eds with former President Carter, the latter of whom grew to regard the former warmly, despite their past competitive history.

And like Carter, Ford will probably be remembered more for his post-presidential life than for his actual White House stay, surviving as he did to live three decades after his presidency ended.

Will Bunch quotes Jim Naughton, a former editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer: "He may have been the nicest man ever to serve in the White House."

The Glittering Eye has an excellent round-up of reaction on the left side of the blogosphere, including many I did not hit in this post.

No comments: