Tuesday, December 26, 2006


Jerry Ford died today. He was the only president who was never elected to the Executive Branch. Vice Presidents have become unelected presidents -- but they were elected as vice presidents. I was talking just a few days ago to a young fella about the Nixon days -- he had no idea about any of it.

Spiro Agnew was Nixon’s first VP. He was, as memory serves, the most hated politician in the history of the Republic. In world history, he ranks somewhere between King John and Nero. He had to resign in 1973 because of tax evasion charges. He pleaded nolo contendere, and was later disbarred. A real clinton. Yes, he took bribes. But he wasn’t hated for that. He was hated because he was Nixon’s hatchet man against the war protesters. We do know, by now, that the peaceniks are only peaceful when it comes to foreign enemies. Political enemies they hate with an abiding hatred. Nixon and Agnew don’t seem to have been great friends, though. Agnew blamed Nixon for leaking reports of the bribery charges -- as a distraction from Watergate. They never met after he left office. Well, Agnew went to the funeral in ’94. A reconciliation of sorts. Unless he pissed on the grave -- if so, it went unreported.

So as of Oct. 10, 1973, there was no vice president. Well, Andrew Johnson didn't have a vice president at all. TR didn’t have one throughout his first term. Problem is, Nixon did have this Watergate problem going on. Can’t have no VP when the President himself might vacate the office. Thus, Jerry Ford was appointed. Nixon selected him. Approved by Congress. Voila! A new Vice President. Ten months later Nixon resigned. I cried, at the time. The dishonor of it. Thus Jerry Ford became president, having been unelected to the vice presidency, and unelected to the presidency.

The Accidental President … that’s what they call such promoted VPs, but Ford was constantly reported in the news as clumsy. You youngsters may have wondered what Chevy Chase’s crappy SNL Ford impersonation was about -- that’s it. It was completely unfair, but Carter was attacked by a rabbit, so there you go.

A lot is being said about Ford's decency. Seems like a nice guy. What is it with the '70s? Ford, and Carter. Two really nice guys. But not what you'd call presidential material. Ford did, did indeed have his problems. But Hitchens loves finding fault. Shall we say, mistakes were made?

Pardoned Nixon a month after he took office. Approval rating went from 70% down into the 30s. But later the Kennedy’s gave him the Profiles in Courage Award. It was the right thing to do. Enough, already. Wisdom is not about justice. We’re still technically at war with North Korea, after all -- what should we do with the enemy who just got nukes? Justice says destroy them. Maybe wisdom does too, but that's not my call. Pardoning Nixon was Ford's call, and it was right. The clinton impeachment doesn't seem to have been good for the country. I'm positive a resignation would have been wonderful. As for a pardon, that would have been a small price to pay. Ah -- if only there had been a President Gore! Then there would have been no 2000 election problem! Then there would have been no 9/11 problem! The islamists would love us! Happy days! Which brings us back to Ford.

Nelson Rockefeller was appointed as Ford’s VP -- at which point it becomes a bit surreal -- unelected and appointed as VP by a former unelected appointed VP who became the unelected President. Rockefeller gave someone the finger, I remember. Johnny Carson made a joke about it: “Somebody asked Rockefeller how many billions of dollars he had. ‘One. I have one billion.’” Guffaws.

Now Ford is dead. Oldest president ever. Beat Regan by a month.

These things come in threes, I’ve noticed. Groucho Marx, Bing Crosby and Charlie Chaplin died within a few months of each other in late 1977. Seemed like a big deal at the time. Of course Elvis and Freddy Prinze went around then too, but we’ll make some excuse as to why that doesn’t spoil the pattern. Well? James Brown died yesterday. Ford died today. This time, we know who the third man is. Some time within the next few days or weeks, Saddam Hussein will hang by the neck until dead. So it’s not all bad.



Anonymous said...

I don't know a lot about president ford since I am much too young to know anything about him, but I have been watching the news and it upsets me that the media made him out to be a clumsy doofus. For some reason i feel incredibly bad for this guy. Maybe its because he doesnt seem like a politician. At 16 it makes me sad that i am already cynical when it comes to politics. It is too bad that the only people who get elected are lying, scheming politicians. Correct me if I'm wrong but Ford actually seemed like a decent, honest man.

Jack H said...

I think he must have been. He often said that he had adversaries, but no enemies. This is a good thing, in a man. We might wonder if it is entirely fitting, in a president. There are ememies in the world, and we need to be enemies of them. I think he was the right man for that time. But it was a stupid time. He's hard to have any big emotions about, though.

As for cynicism, it's something we outgrow. We start out expecting integrity and perfection, and reality very quickly makes it clear that doesn't describe humans. All those people telling us to be righteous, and then they go and fail. Makes us cynical. But after a while we expect people to fail, and this, oddly, is no longer cynicism. It's a kind of gentleness. Of course they fail. Do your best, or nearly, admit when you're wrong, and learn from it. That way, cynicism matures into wisdom.



Will S said...

Ford was a man of high integrity. He was the perfect man at the time. It is hard to imagine how such a man could survive the current system to be one of the viable candidates.

He was our most accomplished Presidential athlete, as well, having played Center (probably both ways) while Captain of his Michigan football team.
I'll concede that other Presidents may have had more athletic ability. Washington, Jackson; maybe Lincoln, for example. Teddy R. was a good boxer. Had they grown up in different times and places, perhaps we'd remember them for their professional sports records instead.

Jack H said...

Linoln could hold an ax by the handle straight out at arms length longer than anyone else, as has famously been said. Washington could bend horseshoes.

But I really don't think they'd make it as pro athletes.

As for Ford, I think his running mate says it all. Dole is of the same cloth. Honest and decent. But not great.