Gerald Ford, RIP
Gerald R. Ford, who picked up the pieces of Richard Nixon’s scandal-shattered White House as the 38th and only unelected president in America’s history, has died, his wife, Betty, said Tuesday. He was 93.
Ford had battled pneumonia in January 2006 and underwent two heart treatments — including an angioplasty — in August at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
He was the longest living president, followed by Ronald Reagan, who also died at 93. Ford had been living at his desert home in Rancho Mirage, Calif., about 130 miles east of Los Angeles.
Ford is probably most famous to my generation from Chevy Chase’s bumbling impression of him on Saturday Night Live, even though his role in history–restoring honor to a party and office tainted by the criminal acts of Nixon’s underlings and Nixon’s cover-up of the same–was a critical one.
UPDATE (James Joyner): David Gerstman (aka Soccer Dad) links to a transcript of one of those SNL sketches and notes that Ford always took Chase’s ribbing with good grace. Ford marked the 5th anniversary of his library with a symposium on Presidential humor.
The event’s most memorable moment: the Jerry and Chevy show, in which Ford, just for the fun of it, literally tripped up Chase, who made a career on Saturday Night Live out of poking fun at the President. Chase claims he has two injured vertebrae from re-enacting Ford’s pratfalls. “Retribution,” said Chase, “has been had.” In spite of his professional injuries, Chase’s tongue is still sharp. “Thank you for having me here,” he told the man who pardoned Richard Nixon. “I’m kind of embarrassed (pause), and I hope you’ll pardon me.”
The NYT report has some excellent historical photographs and a long summary of Ford’s career.
President Bush praised Mr. Ford for his contributions to the nation “in an hour of national turmoil and division,” in a statement released early today from his ranch in Texas.
“With his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the presidency,” Mr. Bush said. “The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration.”
Mr. Ford, who was the only person to lead the country without having been elected as president or vice president, occupied the White House for just 896 days — starting from a hastily arranged ceremony on Aug. 9, 1974, and ending after his defeat by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. But they were pivotal days of national introspection, involving America’s first definitive failure in a war and the first resignation of a president.
After a decade of division over Vietnam and two years of trauma over the Watergate scandals, Jerry Ford, as he called himself, radiated a soothing familiarity. He might have been the nice guy down the street suddenly put in charge of the nation, and if he seemed a bit predictable, he was also safe, reliable and reassuring. He placed no intolerable intellectual or psychological burdens on a weary land, and he lived out a modest philosophy. “The harder you work, the luckier you are,” he said once in summarizing his career. “I worked like hell.”
When Mr. Ford took the oath of president in 1974, the economy was in disarray, an energy shortage was worsening, allies were wondering how steadfast the United States might be as a partner and Mr. Nixon, having resigned rather than face impeachment for taking part in the Watergate cover-up, was flying to seclusion in San Clemente, Calif.
There was a collective sense of relief as Mr. Ford, in the most memorable line of his most noteworthy speech, declared that day, “Our long national nightmare is over.”
President Bush issued a statement at 12:48 AM from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Laura and I are greatly saddened by the passing of former President Gerald R. Ford.
President Ford was a great American who gave many years of dedicated service to our country. On August 9, 1974, after a long career in the House of Representatives and service as Vice President, he assumed the Presidency in an hour of national turmoil and division. With his quiet integrity, common sense, and kind instincts, President Ford helped heal our land and restore public confidence in the Presidency.
The American people will always admire Gerald Ford’s devotion to duty, his personal character, and the honorable conduct of his administration. We mourn the loss of such a leader, and our 38th President will always have a special place in our Nation’s memory. On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I offer our deepest sympathies to Betty Ford and all of President Ford’s family. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them in the hours and days ahead.
Vice President Cheney, who served as Ford’s Chief of Staff, issued this statement:
I am deeply saddened by the death of former President Gerald R. Ford.
President Ford led an honorable life that brought great credit to the United States of America. Throughout his career, as a Naval officer, Congressman, Vice President and President, Gerald Ford embodied the best values of a great generation: decency, integrity, and devotion to duty. Thirty-two years ago, he assumed the nation’s highest office during the greatest constitutional crisis since the Civil War. In that troubled era, America needed strength, wisdom, and good judgment, and those qualities came to us in the person of Gerald R. Ford. When he left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency, and the nation once again looked to the future with confidence and faith.
I was proud to know President Ford, and to have served in the White House as his chief of staff. He was a dear friend and mentor to me until this very day. I feel a great sense of loss at his passing, and Lynne and our daughters join me in offering heartfelt sympathy to Betty Ford and her entire family.
WaPo reports on the funeral arrangements:
Funeral services will take place in Washington and Grand Rapids, Michigan, his boyhood home, the wire service reported, and public viewings will be held in California, Washington and Grand Rapids. More details are expected later today. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library, in Ann Arbor, and the Ford museum, in Grand Rapids, will open their lobbies for extended hours so people can sign condolence books. People can also send messages of condolence, or donate to a memorial fund, through the Gerald Ford memorial website.
They also note that Ford’s short tenure was marked by significant accomplishments:
In the 2 1/2 years of his presidency, Ford ended the U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam, helped mediate a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Egypt, signed the Helsinki human rights convention with the Soviet Union and traveled to Vladivostok in the Soviet Far East to sign an arms limitation agreement with Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet president. Ford also sent the Marines to free the crew of the Mayaguez, a U.S. merchant vessel that was captured by Cambodian communists.
On the domestic front, he faced some of the most difficult economic conditions since the Great Depression, with the inflation rate approaching 12 percent. Chronic energy shortages and price increases produced long lines and angry citizens at gas pumps. In the field of civil rights, the sense of optimism that had characterized the 1960s had been replaced by an increasing sense of alienation, particularly in inner cities. The new president also faced a political landscape in which Democrats held large majorities in both the House and the Senate.
But Ford’s overriding priority was ending the constitutional and political crisis known as Watergate. It had begun June 17, 1972, when five operatives of Nixon’s reelection campaign were caught breaking into Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office building.
Reactions from around the blogosphere:
- Dean Esmay recalls “the first President I clearly recognized as a child.”
- Michelle Malkin has an interesting roundup, including photos of the two assassination attempts Ford survived.
- Ed Morrissey takes the now-minority (but then overwhelming majority) view that Ford should not have pardoned Richard Nixon.
- Jack and Charmaine Yoest come down on opposite sides of that question.
- Pam Spaulding notes Ford was the highest ranking Republican ever to issue an unequivocal statement in favor of gay marriage.
- GayPatriotWest recalls working on Ford’s (re?)election campaign as a 13-year-old.
- Rick Moran recalls meeting Ford while working on a congressional campaign in 1980.
- Mac Ranger met Ford in 1975 and has fond memories.
- Ron Chusid meet an elderly Ford at the University of Michigan and observes that, “As one example of how the world has changed since Ford’s college days, Ford turned down NFL offers in order to attend Yale Law School.
- Gaius never met Ford but is proud to have voted for him.
- Jim Lynch voted for him, too.
- Gun Toting Liberal loved Ford, mostly because of the SNL sketches.
- PunditGuy Bill has a nice roundup of Ford stories.
- Mustang Bobby notes that Ford was of a different era, “before the politics of personal destruction and character assassination became the accepted practice.”
- See-Dubya calls Ford “Best President of the 1970’s.”