Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford, RIP

The death of Gerald Ford makes us reconsider one of the nation's least offensive presidents. It was hard to hate or really love Gerald Ford.

I think you have to judge his brief presidency on two major issues.

First, his pardon of Nixon. Was this a good idea? Even Ted Kennedy now says it was. I'm not so sure. The nation did need a break from Nixon and his law-breaking. I think it did allow the nation to get its bearings and move on. Ford was the right man for the time since no one could reasonably question his integrity. But letting the greatest scoundrel to ever hold the office of President of the United States get off scot free still seems dubious. I would have been intensely angry about it at the time and in some ways I am now. He deserved to go to prison, as did Haldeman, Ehrlichmann, Liddy, etc., etc. Lots of Nixon's people needed hard prison. Some did serve some time, but not enough to keep Liddy, Chuck Colson, and others from playing major roles on the Right today. No doubt that Ford's pardon was courageous given that it cost him reelection. But was it right? I just don't know.

He also needs to be judged on his foreign policy. Here Ford comes off a bit less well. He kept Kissinger as Secretary of State, fully supported the Latin American dictatorships, did nothing worthwhile in Southeast Asia, and continued US support for failing dictators like the Shah in Iran. This doesn't separate him from other Republican presidents. Certainly his foreign policy toward Latin America and Asia was less damaging than Eisenhower, Johnson, or Nixon. But he hardly improved our reputation around the world. True, he wasn't president for a real long time, but even if he had won reelection, I have difficulty seeing any kind of real leadership here and certainly not even the limited work for human rights that Carter accomplished.

I should also say that his death gives me 5 down on my Death List. I'm not sure if I'm proud of this exactly, but it should give next year's selections pause.

Update--Others have noted that Ford presided over the East Timor disaster. That is an unquestioned black mark on his foreign policy, though I'm not sure that other presidents of the period would have acted any differently.