On Gerald Ford’s Passing


A number of TWN readers have emailed me asking me to comment on President Ford’s passing. So much is out there now about him — in a strange blizzard of confessionals about how liked and admired he was (for the most part) — despite being mostly ignored for decades.
I really don’t have much to say about the late President Ford. I met him three times — and one of those at Richard Nixon’s funeral which I attended and had some role. All the former presidents were there — and the then current one, Bill Clinton.
At the funeral, both just before the ceremony started and at the reception following, I spoke with Ford who wished Dimitri Simes (president Nixon’s latter day Henry Kissinger), Library Director John Taylor, and me well with what was then called the “Nixon Center for Peace and Freedom” (now the Nixon Center).
As I knew Nixon — though not well — I think Ford thought that I would be well-trained in sports banter and tried that out on me. I don’t follow any sports — accept maybe at that time 12 and a half years ago I was into the marathon crowd.

Nixon used to break into sports banter as well, but at points where he would stop talking data and scores about football teams and whatever, at least Nixon would break into serious discussion about Russia, the importance of saving Yeltsin, or of pushing the Japanese out of their narrowly-drawn, self-serving grooves. Ford just talked about sports and various platitudes about how good someone or other was.
Ford seemed like a good man, sort of rumbling along knowing that he wasn’t supposed to be cosmic.
Much of the commentary about Ford focuses on his pardon of Nixon. I have a blind spot there. I know people who argue compelling and passionately on both sides of that line. But I agree with those who see Nixon as a brilliant foreign policy strategist. He had huge flaws, but he did change the world — and domestically, Nixon was the last genuinely liberal president. He was.
Ford did serve a key caretaker role that needed to be played, and he deserves credit for conducting himself then and the many years after Jimmy Carter beat him with dignity and reserve.
But former Presidents — whether elected or not — have a responsibility in my view to continue to do great things. Clinton and President Bush’s father have just finished a stint helping to raise aid and support for tsunami victims. President Carter has turned out to be a simply amazing former President.
Gerald Ford, to my knowledge, avoided big picture responsibilities after his tenure — though his wife certainly made her impact on the nation’s conciousness of correcting substance abuse. I’m sure Ford did do many good things — and I know he played in charity golf tournaments.
But Ford never cut a big picture. He wasn’t designed for that. He was designed to calm folks down, and that’s exactly what the country needed after Watergate.

— Steve Clemons


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