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


14 comments on “On Gerald Ford’s Passing

  1. wow power leveling says:

    you’re going to dish dirt on me you’ll need to be original. I have already written a book about my felonious past. I outed myself, so to speak so there is nothing revelatory about these so-called factoids. The book is called News Junkie. It was published last week.


  2. Milo taitel says:

    Nice, i really like what you’re saying here. It’s already bookmarked.


  3. Lois says:

    Ford didn’t just pardon Nixon, of course. There were investigations ongoing about the collection and payment of hush money, illegal use of government assets, etc. Ford’s pardon effectively let other conspirators off the hook. The link is interesting; one possible source of hush money was Carlos Marcello, a mob boss who is also a figure in Kennedy assassination investigations.


  4. rich says:

    Thanks for this post. Very helpful,informative.
    You write:
    “Much of the commentary about Ford focuses on his pardon of Nixon. I have a blind spot there.”
    Which is that you have NO opinion? OR, that you’re too close to weigh both sides objectively (which is OK)? Unclear.
    Steve also writes:
    “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.”
    Even Nixon’s strongest detractors recognize the clarity & positive impact of his domestic policy. His practice . . . Fascinating all the contradictions between Nixon’s policies and political practices. This also carries over to the foreign policy side.
    Brilliant in the foreign policy arena, yes–which doesn’t preclude egregious errors that carried high costs, for both the US & Vietnam.
    Nixon did alter geopolitics with some brilliant, bold strokes. Even in Vietnam, not every move was as bad as some make out–though several decisions/policies were flat-out horrendous. You could write a book about the downside to Nixon’s brilliance in Vietnam & Cambodia–& many have. Great brains can&do incur heavy costs.
    I left my thoughts on Ford’s pardon of Nixon in the comments for the other post on Ford. We’re still paying the price for his presumption in short-circuiting the process.
    You can’t ‘heal the nation’ by papering over the wound. No redemption w/o recognition and contrition. There’s NO way around that, no matter how easy & comforting to say otherwise.
    Link below is to an archived TIME story c.1974 documenting the price Ford paid for the pardon. RANCOR and disgust at Ford’s presumption INCREASED over time–it DID NOT FADE. That FLATLY/directly CONTRADICTS the notion Ford’s pardon brought the country together, and the idea that was what people wanted. It did not; it was not.


  5. Nigel says:

    An interesting review of Gerald Ford, I’d suspect after the Nixon affair & losing the next election to have been as high profile as Carter/Clinton could easily be perceived as exploiting an office for which he served admirably but he never had the “legitimacy” of being elected to.
    Also my suspicion would be that it was in the best interests of the US as a nation to move on from Nikon & for Gerald Ford to have retained a high profile would have been a constant reminder of that of that period.
    An interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald http://www.smh.com.au/news/world/my-staffers-made-a-mess-of-iraq-ford/2006/12/28/1166895423615.html


  6. Jim DeRosa says:

    Don’t forget to add this to Gerald Ford’s bio:
    In 1997 the Assassination Records Review Board (ARRB) released a document that revealed that Ford had altered the first draft of the Warren Commission Report to read: “A bullet had entered the base of the back of his neck slightly to the right of the spine.”
    Ford had elevated the location of the wound from its true location in the back to the neck to support the single bullet theory.
    The original first draft of the Warren Commission Report stated that a bullet had entered Kennedy’s “back at a point slightly above the shoulder and to the right of the spine.”
    Our Great National Nightmare seems to have no beginning and no end.


  7. Zathras says:

    Gerald Ford was crippled politically for most of his administration, a direct consequence of the legacy Nixon had left him. Compared to most Presidents, Ford had many fewer options.
    That might have changed had he completed his comeback and defeated Carter in 1976, as he almost did. But while he was President, Ford found himself unable to impose his will within his own administration, let alone one a Congress with massive Democratic majorities in both houses. In seeking to recover support from Republicans Nixon had alienated, Ford sought to appeal to the party’s right without ever really connecting with it; in particular, his leaving Nelson Rockefeller off his ticket in 1976 made him look weak while not wooing any conservatives away from Ronald Reagan, and by naming Donald Rumsfeld Secretary of Defense and allowing him input into policy beyond the Pentagon Ford helped bring his own foreign policy to a grinding halt for a good year before the election.
    America could have done much worse than Gerald Ford in the aftermath of the Watergate cataclysm. He deserves all the credit he is getting now for reestablishing the Presidency as a functioning institution. There is a contrast to be made, though, between his struggles to keep his administration’s head above water and the great achievements of Truman’s administration during the periods when Truman was as unpopular and regarded as lightly as Ford ever was.


  8. S Brennan says:

    Steve asked me to post this so…
    To: Steve Clemons
    Subject: my recollection is that Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft dodgers and took some heat for it?
    You may want to check this, my recollection is that Jimmy Carter pardoned the draft dodgers and took some heat for it? Don’t get me wrong outside of Eisenhower he was my favorite Republican.
    > AMY GOODMAN: And, the fact that he also, not only pardoned Richard Nixon, but granted amnesty to draft era resisters…
    > Posted by pauline at December 28, 2006 11:04 AM
    > Pauline — really interesting exchange with Navasky. Thanks for posting it.
    > Posted by Steve Clemons at December 28, 2006 11:12 AM
    From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerald_Ford
    At the same time as he announced the Nixon pardon, Ford introduced a conditional amnesty [1] program for Vietnam War draft dodgers who had fled to countries such as Canada. Unconditional amnesty, however, did not come about until the Jimmy Carter presidency.
    [1] http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,908872,00.html
    When Gerald Ford announced his conditional amnesty program last month, draft evaders and deserters seemed to have only two choices: either submit to the Government’s terms and face up to 24 months of “alternative service,” or remain on the lam-fugitives at home or exiles abroad. In fact, there is also the option of fighting in the courts to win complete freedom. Last week the American Civil Liberties Union announced that it would help that fight by supplying full and free legal services to any evader or deserter.
    Waived Rights. Henry Schwarzschild, director of the A.C.L.U.’s Project on Amnesty, argues: “The clemency program is punitive. It is not only devoid of any sense of mitigation and clemency, but it is also packed with procedural infirmities, which we will definitely challenge.” The A.C.L.U. is particularly concerned about the fact that a man volunteering to enter the amnesty program must agree to waive many Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights (protection against self-incrimination and double jeopardy, as well as the guarantees of due process and a speedy trial). He must also promise not to use the statute of limitations as a defense if he is prosecuted for failing to live up to the amnesty conditions.


  9. pauline says:

    from WSJ’s Washington Wire —
    Reflecting on his legacy last year, President Ford wrote that “historians study the significant diplomatic, legislative and economic events that occurred during a presidential term to evaluate that presidency”, with little consideration given to Supreme Court nominees.
    “Let that not be the case with my presidency,” he wrote. “For I am prepared to allow history’s judgment of my term in office to rest (if necessary, exclusively) on my nomination 30 years ago of Justice John Paul Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court.”


  10. Frank says:

    Ford had given new meaning to the word “accountability” in this country by pardoning Nixon. If more sanctions against Nixon were realized, perhaps cirminal incompetents like Bush would think twice before embarking on a widely predicted disastrous adventure in Iraq.
    No, Ford had set a weakening, (for our countrys viability), precedent with the Nixon pardon, making less probable that Bush will answere for his Nurenburg quality criminal actions.


  11. Bart says:

    Ford granting amnesty to the VN draft avoiders makes him a good man; a good Republican, I should add. Contrast this with Reagan firing the air traffic controllers.


  12. Steve Clemons says:

    Pauline — really interesting exchange with Navasky. Thanks for posting it.
    Steve Clemons
    The Washington Note


  13. pauline says:

    from Democracy Now last evening —
    AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Victor Navasky, your thoughts today on President Ford’s legacy.
    VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, I think he–the most important thing he did was he pardoned Richard Nixon. And he–if that was, indeed, the result of a deal, rather than this he’s being credited, and maybe properly so, with trying to heal the nation. But, if he–his attempt to heal the nation was a result of a deal he made while he was Vice President of the United States, that’s an important missing piece of history. So he’ll be celebrated because he’s a nice guy and he was a football player and all of that stuff for the next week or two. But if it turns out that this deal was made then history is going to have a harsher judgment about him.
    AMY GOODMAN: And, the fact that he also, not only pardoned Richard Nixon, but granted amnesty to draft era resisters, the significance of that.
    VICTOR NAVASKY: Well, I think you have to credit him for that. Time passes, and he was–he was in the healing business, on the one hand. On the other hand, what you mentioned earlier in the program about his attempt to impeach Justice Douglass for publishing in the Evergreen Review, which was an experimental, sort of hippie, avant-garde, very good, and serious literary magazine, was outrageous. And so he’s a complicated guy who came across as a nice guy.
    AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, very much, Victor Navasky, Publisher Emeritus of The Nation magazine, Chair of the Columbia University Journalism Review, for joining us today.


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