Gerald Ford: Beneath the Veneer


Say what you want about Bob Woodward (and I’ve said a lot of it), the guy gets people to talk. While Ford talked to me about sports, Woodward talked with him about strategy and what he thought of our nation’s national security helmsmen.
Behind the bland veneer of President Gerald Ford, there was a seemingly solid realist and Machiavellian strategist — with both policy objectives and personnel.
That’s the read I get out of this fascinating Bob Woodward interview with Ford that was embargoed until the former president’s death.

Ford’s comments about Cheney losing it in his current job are particularly compelling:

In the sessions, Ford fondly recalled his close working relationship with key Bush advisers Cheney and Rumsfeld while expressing concern about the policies they pursued in more recent years.
“He was an excellent chief of staff. First class,” Ford said. “But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious” as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell’s assertion that Cheney developed a “fever” about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. “I think that’s probably true.”

Ford was right on target about Cheney’s pugnaciousness.
Make sure you read his quip about Kissinger.
— Steve Clemons


14 comments on “Gerald Ford: Beneath the Veneer

  1. parrot says:

    Ask him no questions, he’ll tell you no lies. That’s the gist of the entired (sic) interview. Yeah, Woodward might have done us a service uncovering Ford’s penchant for supporting his friends over good policy…but will we, the People, take the opportunity to learn from Ford and our own mistakes?
    I mean, who is it that kept these folks in power and gave them legitimacy? And why does that continue to happen? That’s the thing–Ford craved power and he loved to use it to help his friends…without any consideration for the rest of us, it would seem. So, is it surprising that the Bushites that sprung up on Ford’s watch are now doing the same thing?
    It is cronyism, Ford and Nixon, Cheney and Bush, pure and simple. These Vice Presidents are picked to make it harder to get over the political hump when it comes to actually convicting criminals who hold the highest offices in the land.


  2. MP says:

    I heard an interview with Brian Lamb this morning on C-Span radio with someone–didn’t get his name–who was very close to Ford. Apparently there was another recent interview with Ford in which he focused primarily on Bush’s WMD rationale for the invasion. That is, that Ford objected to the rationale, but agreed that Saddam needed to go. Since the rationale was the common element in both interviews, this interviewee SUGGESTED that this was the heart of what Ford said. But who knows.
    Josh quotes Woodward as saying that Ford’s primary reason for the pardon was that he valued his friendship–close relationship — with Nixon. A wee bit of a change from the official story. But I imagine that Ford conflated the two in his mind…of course, it’s just speculation. Rich may be right: We may be still paying the price for this action.


  3. MP says:

    ET writes: “Of course, Bernstein. And, I am no apologist for Woodward, but his report on Ford seems clear today. I wish it would have come sooner, how about you?”
    Yes, I agree on both points. But he, Ford, was “old school.” Didn’t think it was his place to interfere, I’m sure. As much as I wish he had, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have made a difference to Bush. Ford was from a different era. It wasn’t that long ago, but it was worlds away.


  4. Pissed Off American says:

    “You lefties wouldn’t give a damn about what Ford said if he was for the invasion of Iraq, this is just latching on to people’s comments and credibility only when it’s convenient for your partisanship.”
    Well, hey, what’s your point? Are you saying Woodward is lying, and Ford actually thought the war was going great? Gee, maybe he even believed that the insurgency is in its last throes???
    And, if you haven’t noticed, you blithering dolt, you seem to be the most rabidly partisan poster on this blog, (‘cept maybe the Morrow robot, and a coupla trolls).


  5. Frank says:

    Right on Rich. The utter crap about a divided nation in shambles trumped NOT pardoning Nixon is a dangerous myth that has found legs for shallow historians and media pundits to massage.
    Ford has done more harm than good pardoning Nixon. You can bet that Bush is betting on the same thing happening to him. The trodden path to mediocrity residing in the White House continues with this sickening Ford “sainthood” malarky currently drenching the media.
    Leave it that he was a good golf player… period.


  6. ET says:

    Hey, MP, long time no hear. Thanks for your remarks and Happy 2007.
    Of course, Bernstein. And, I am no apologist for Woodward, but his report on Ford seems clear today. I wish it would have come sooner, how about you? ET


  7. MP says:

    ET writes: “Excuse me, Mark, in his day, Bob Woodward worked diligently to get at at the truth of Nixon’s unlawful abuse of executive power.”
    Yes, but oh how the might have fallen!
    Woodward will always be in the pantheon for what he did with Watergate–though I’ve heard that Bernstein was the real brains and the better writer–but he seems to be walking a bit of a crooked line, or at least an unclear one, these days.


  8. rich says:

    The impact of Ford’s tenure seems to be unrecognized, and may be radically mis-stated by many holding conventional views.
    What’s your take on Ford embargoing Woodward’s interview? Does this show the drawbacks of the ex-Presidents’ code? If their counsel to a sitting President is unheard, and they have no obligation to offer counsel to the Nation, don’t they move from ‘Wise Men’ all the way past Greek Chorus to Pall-Bearers?
    Conventional Wisdom on Ford’s pardon of Nixon is a comforting, but incorrect story as well. The public had a right to see the mechanisms of justice do their work. And without that public accounting, there can’t be any recognition, contrition, catharsis, or healing.
    Ford’s pardon didn’t heal the country–it just papered over the gaping wound in the national psyche, the legal system, and the body politic.
    That set a precedent that allowed a redoubling of the so-called imperial presidency, in which gaming the system was ‘okay’ so long as you can get away with it. Thus we have the return of the very same crimes Nixon was nearly impeached for. Among other illegal practices, including unilateral & unprovoked acts of war, and undeclared wars based on false pretenses.
    It’s fascinating that Gerald Ford had ringside seats to the Vietnam quagmire, and saw the only option was extrication–but at the same time, his pardon allowed future presidents to act with equal impunity–not excluding plunging into the next quagmire, in the same discredited way. And still remained silent about the lessons he himself had learned.
    The pardon opened the way for a near total lack of accountability. HAD Nixon faced up to his actions, Ronnie and Bush I might not have put the country through Iran-Contra. HAD the Iran-Contra characters been held to account for their betrayals, W. Bush would not have felt free to act ‘The Decider’ (read, despot). And Yoo and others would not be playing games with the Nation & American People using torture memos and “legal opinions” about an imagined unitary exeucutive. Add to that the malicious notion you can “legalize” criminality after-the-fact.
    Again, Gerald Ford has many more accomplishments than are recognized, as Steve points out in his post. These are not small things. Yet Nixon’s pardon (& Ford’s recent silence) UNDO many of Ford’s greatest accomplishments and most insightful policies/ views.
    It’s as if Ford’s reasonableness trumped his integrity, and opened the door to Bush’s intransigence, as well as his misunderstanding of power and its relation to politics.
    Lest anyone perpetuate the falsehood that the pardon was necessary b/c ‘the nation couldn’t take any more traaumaaa’, or that ‘the American people couldn’t handle any more trauma,’ and ‘didn’t want more scandal,’ think again. The facts don’t support that view. The public’s strong goodwill extended to Ford “instantly evaporated” that day, and Ford’s high approval ratings “plummeted in the polls” (Prezntl historian Elizabeth, LehrerNewshour. 12/27).
    The American People are no weak sisters. The Nation is made whole, and made stronger, not harmed, by allowing the mechanisms of justice to work as intended. If the American People ‘don’t want another scandal’ then it’s worth pointing out that the scandal STILL EXISTS even if papered over and unaddressed. Far from harming the country, accountability would likely have spared it much grief. It may be a comforting fairytale to some to say ‘the nation can’t withstand another trauma,’ but it is nonetheless a pernicious falsehood.
    The American People were looking for recompense, correction, repair, and redress of grievances–as is their birthright, as was Ford’s obligation. Though Ford no doubt thought to substitute his own Solomonaic judgment for the wheels of justice, the pardon cheated the public and the country out of that rightful judicial due.
    We’ve been paying a heavy, heavy price, ever since.


  9. ET says:

    “This guy has a history of lying about stuff guys.”
    Excuse me, Mark, in his day, Bob Woodward worked diligently to get at at the truth of Nixon’s unlawful abuse of executive power. We need that sort of truth-seeking in our reporters today. I cannot measure the order of magnitude of the comparative excesses of the Bush White House, but the cowardice that has characterized today’s press is proportionate to it.


  10. della Rovere says:

    Steve, I agree with your comments. I think Carter has been great and not just now (meaning since the Iraq tragedy). Clinton has surely been a big disappointment. If he calls them as he sees them,then he needs to get his head screwed in a little tighter; if not, he should. And to the extent he doesn’t he is not fulfilling his obligations.
    Nan, there are also soldiers dying. You aren’t walking in their shoes either. Or the millions of Iraqis suffering. A person in position of doing something or saying something to make the situation better, has that responsibility. I an sure it is hard. But that is not an acceptable excuse when so much is at stake.


  11. Mark says:

    You lefties wouldn’t give a damn about what Ford said if he was for the invasion of Iraq, this is just latching on to people’s comments and credibility only when it’s convenient for your partisanship.
    Also, Woodward’s comments are already under scrutiny,
    This guy has a history of lying about stuff guys. Don’t jump to conclusions on stuff when Woodward is your only source.


  12. nan says:

    I love the comments , and especially find it so interesting for people to take shots at others without ever being able to realize that they would do the exact same thing in other people’s shoes … it’s so easy to be a critic


  13. Steve Clemons says:

    Dear della Rovere — yes, it would have been nice to have any indication that President Ford was thinking along these lines. Carter has done a good job — and Clinton reasonably so — of indicating their views of Bush’s missteps. But Ford was completely quiet. Too bad for us, steve


  14. della Rovere says:

    It is only by comparison with boy-George the idiot-savant (without the savant) currently in office that Ford comes out so well (and I agree if you compare with Bush he does). But why a two year “embargo” on this interview? Doesn’t a former President have an obligation to the country, superseding obligations to the shitty Republican Party, to speak out on behalf of its best interest. Is the role of politicians to simply protect their friends?


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