Yes, I know I’m a day late with this, but I couldn’t let the passing of Gerald Ford go by without comment. Of all the presidents who have held office during my lifetime, he was my favorite.
Some will, no doubt, raise their eyebrows at this last statement. But then, my favorite Red Sox player is Doug Mirabelli. And when you think about it, the two really have a lot in common.
For those of you who don’t know, Doug Mirabelli is the backup catcher for the Boston Red Sox. To put it kindly, Doug is not going to the Hall of Fame. I can probably hit better than he can. Furthermore, as the personal catcher for knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, he has the shittiest job in baseball. (If you know who Tim Wakefield is, you know what I mean. If you don’t, don’t ask me to explain it here, just trust me on this one, OK?) Nevertheless, Doug endears himself to the fans, me included, because he defied expectations and succeeded in a job that nobody else really wanted. And by all account he is also a really good guy.
Gerald Ford was the Doug Mirabelli of American presidents. Having resolved to retire from politics at the end of his term, instead he got the shitty job that no one else wanted, that everyone predicted he wasn’t up to. He had neither the rhetorical skills of a Ronald Reagan, nor the intellect of a Bill Clinton, nor the charisma of either. His career in Congress, while long, was not particularly distinguished. He is not remembered for any landmark legislation His most notable quality was that everyone liked him, Republicans and Democrats alike. And yet it is this seemingly uninspiring politician whom history will remember as the man who, with nothing more complicated than integrity and decency, helped to heal America and end, in his own memorable words, the “long national nightmare”.
He had to have known that by pardoning Nixon he was effectively shooting a torpedo into his hopes of being re-elected. That he chose to do so anyway was one of the most courageous acts in modern politics. After the pardon, his popularity rating plummeted from 71 to 49 percent. After the 1976 election, president elect Jimmy Carter called Ford a “good and decent man”, and it is no surprise that both of these good and decent men eventually became life long friends.
Some interesting facts about our 38th president:
- Just as Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Dr. Watson unjustly convinced generations of movie goers that Watson was a buffoon, so did Chevy Chase’s Saturday Night Live spoof forever fix Ford as a clumsy oaf in the public consciousness. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He was in fact one of the most gifted athletes ever to hold public office. He was an outstanding college football player. As the starting center at Michigan State, he was voted the Wolverine’s most valuable player in his senior year. He turned down offers from the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers to turn pro, electing instead to go to Yale Law School. His number 48 was eventually retired by the school. Not bad for an alleged klutz.
- He was the last surviving member of the Warren Commission.
- Thomas P. O’Neill was a life long friend and one of his favorite golf partners.
- In his first year in office, he used his veto power 36 times.
- While Nixon is widely credited with ending American involvement in Vietnam, it was actually under Ford that the last American soldiers came home in 1975.
- Gerald Ford, not George H. W. Bush, was Ronald Reagan’s first choice as a running mate in 1980. Perhaps not surprisingly, Ford turned him down.
- Ford dedicated the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum during the nation’s Bicentennial celebration in 1976.
- He was a dedicated pipe smoker, whose favorite tobacco was Field & Stream. That right there is enough to tell me he was a good guy.
Embroiled as our nation is in another national nightmare, it may not be too much to say that we could use a man like Gerald Ford today.