by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
December 28, 2006
FORD WAS THE RIGHT MAN AT THE RIGHT TIME
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Shakespeare wrote that, "Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon 'em."
And then there's President Gerald R. Ford, who doesn't fit neatly into any of those categories. He wasn't born great and he never achieved greatness, even after it was thrust upon him.
Ford, who died Tuesday at age 93, will not go down in history as one of America's greatest presidents. However, he was the right person for the time in which he served.
He was a mildly known congressman from Michigan. He was House Minority Leader at a time when the Republican Party had little power or influence in Washington. In 25 years in Congress, he never wrote a major piece of legislation.
Old-timers may have remembered his prowess as a lineman for the University of Michigan football teams in the mid-1930s, but there was little else memorable about Ford.
When scandal-plagued Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in October 1973, Ford was the safe replacement pick for President Richard Nixon. Ford was seen as a loyal Nixon ally who would not cause trouble.
Few expected that less than a year later, Nixon would leave the White House in disgrace and Ford would become our 38th president.
At a time of maximum turmoil on every front - social, economic, political and global - Ford was a calming force. The words in the speech he gave upon taking over the presidency on Aug. 9, 1974, set the tone for his 896 days in office.
"My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over," he said. "Our Constitution works. Our great republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here, the people rule."
A month later, Ford likely forfeited his chance at winning an election in his own right by unconditionally pardoning Nixon. Historians will debate this act for years to come, but many now see it as Ford did at the time - a conciliatory gesture to help heal the nation after the turmoil of the Watergate scandal and the bitter ending of the Vietnam War.
Ford was a steady and humble man, exactly the qualities that were needed in a president after Richard Nixon.
He humanized the office, something he could not help but do, given his personality. "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln," he liked to say. He was so low-key that he was frequently overshadowed by his wife, Betty Ford, an outspoken and fearless woman given to strong opinions on virtually any topic.
He was such a likable guy that it seemed unthinkable when two California women tried to shoot him - in separate unconnected assassination attempts within three weeks of each other in September 1975.
He lost the only election of his political career in 1976, when Jimmy Carter narrowly won the presidency. Many voters simply could not forgive Ford for pardoning Nixon.
Ford's post-White House career proved to be lucrative. He became the first ex-president to turn that status into a cottage industry, earning millions for speech making and corporate appearances. Aside from briefly entertaining the idea of being Ronald Reagan's running mate in 1980, Ford was content to play golf and fill the role of elder statesman in the Republican Party.
As a traditional conservative, he warned his party about the dangers of going too far to the right - warnings that went unheeded. In the end, Ford was accorded little respect by the Republican Party after the rise of the new right that culminated with Reagan's election in 1980.
Ford was closer to Carter - working with him on several projects after both had left office - than to Reagan, who never once invited Ford to the White House for a social event during his eight years as president.
Gerald Ford was often called a plodder and an accidental president by his critics, but as the transitional figure between the arrogance of Nixon and the earnestness of Carter, Ford helped keep the country together during a difficult time. Compared to the current occupant of the White House, he looks pretty good right now.
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