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Gerald R. Ford, former President of the United States, passed away Tuesday at the age of 93, having become the longest lived president in American history, surpassing John Adams and Ronald Reagan. Ford should be remembered not merely for his fundamental decency but also his sense of restraint and deference to the national interest above that of the political interests of himself or his party. No greater recognition of the ethical difference between Jerry Ford and most other politicians of the time exists than can be summed up in but two words: President Agnew.

While Mr. Ford was the subject of many jokes during his tenure, it must be pointed out that in Ford’s place, many of his ambitious peers would have cut corners where Gerald Ford walked the straight and narrow. Ford knew that issuing a pardon to Richard Nixon would immediately end his ” honeymoon”, poison his relations with the press and Congress and devastate his chances for election in 1976. He did it anyway and called up the Democratic Speaker of the House, Tip O’Neill beforehand and explained why without spin or sleight of hand that it was, he believed, the right thing to do for the country.

Ford was forced to clean-up after two great debacles, the Vietnam War and Watergate. It was a volatile time where respect for traditional American institutions, and in particular the presidency, was at low ebb. Ford understood that and his administration conducted political triage with policy and gesture. Having a “Watergate Baby” Democratic Congress that was filled with inexeperienced new members, very few of whom were Republicans and most of whom were more influenced by the antiwar and civil rights movements than their own party elders, Ford continued to pursue detente with the Soviets and avoided new military engagements. He eschewed trappings of the imperial presidency and where Nixon had isolated himself, Ford attempted to engage. Few presidents were ever less hated by their contemporaries than ” good old Jerry.”

As President, Ford helped boost the political careers of a number of men who went on to make a national impact, including Donald Rumsfeld, George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole, Dick Cheney, Alan Greenspan and David Gergen. His naming of Nelson Rockefeller to the Vice-Presidency effectively rewarded the latter man even as it represented the swan song of liberal “Rockefeller” Republicanism. After losing the race to Jimmy Carter in 1976, Ford enjoyed a low-key retirement, occasionally providing quiet advice to his successors and counseling the G.O.P. to exercise caution during the impeachment crisis of President Clinton.

Gerald Ford was dealt the weakest hand of any president in the history of the Republic, and for the most part, played his cards with realism and skill, being the right man for a troubled time.

Godspeed, Mr. President


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