Yes, he was kind of dumb and fell down a lot, but what people don’t know about Gerry Ford is that in the very heart of the 70’s, just when we needed it, he ended Watergate, the Vietnam War and the recession. And he was a lot cooler than people realize.
Pardoning Nixon was at the time considered traitorous. But we now view this act as not so bad. Ford wasn’t so wrong that lynching Nixon, fun as it would have been, would have dragged all of us through the muck of retribution and it probably would have gotten out of hand. So good Ger, we did actually need a final cleansing to move past Watergate and heal. And history certainly judged Nixon as harshly as his critics would have wished.
Vietnam had dragged on for over a decade. But it was Ford’s seeing the writing on the wall, and using his leadership and time in the House that finally influenced Congress to sufficiently withhold funding to let the war end. In September 1974, just a month after Ford assumed the Presidency, Congress appropriated only $700 million for South Vietnam. This left the South Vietnamese under-funded and resulted in a rapid and steep decline of military readiness and morale. In December, when North Vietnam violated the Paris peace treaty by attacking Phuoc Long Province in South Vietnam, Ford responded with diplomatic protests but no military force. The end came soon thereafter.
And while Ford got a lot of crap for Nixon’s pardon, the flip side to that was a blanket pardon to over 100,000 draft evaders and military deserters. The amnesty offered was very far reaching, and covered convicted draft violators, convicted military deserters and AWOL’s, draft violators who had never been tried, and veterans with less than honorable discharges for absence offenses.
Ford did much to contribute to a stronger US economy. When Ford came into office inflation was over 12 percent. He came up with the WIN (Whip Inflation Now) program and those cute WIN buttons and by 1975 inflation had dropped to 7 percent and was down to 4.6 percent by mid ’76 when he was running for re-election. Unemployment dropped during his presidency as well. In March of ’75, a total of 84.1 million persons had jobs. In July, 1976, employment had risen to an all-time high of 87.9 million, an increase of 3.8 million jobs in a little over a year. Unemployment was 8.9 percent in May 1975, but by July 1976, it was down to 7.8 percent.
Ford accomplished this by tightly controlling spending. Despite being from the House, he vetoed more legislation – percentage-wise – than just about any president. He wielded the power of the Presidential veto 55 times, citing the need to battle inflation. The total dollar savings from his vetoes was about $10 billion, as Congress upheld 45 of the vetoes.
More than all this, he restored honesty and integrity to the executive branch. The guy really had no guile. I met him once, and I could see it right away. He was like my grandpa. He came from that last generation of Americans that could afford to be honest.
The sense of stability he transmitted was another reason the economy improved. But the other benefit from Ford’s nature was the era of Good Times that swept the land once Nixon left the stage. For Ford had that greatest of great presidential qualities. He was a hands off guy. He knew our country was enjoying the biggest party in the history of the world, and he let us get on with it. Once Nixon was gone, and Rock Music and disco and glam and popularization of the 60’s as the 70’s and everything that went with it had arrived, mid-70’s America became what we all now know it to have been: the zenith of Western civilization. Time will vindicate those who believe it that that was the peak. And Gerry was our absentee landlord. Thank you Gerry.
Of course, he was also a pretty tough dude. He survived 2 assassination attempts, as well as hitting his head and tripping a lot. LBJ once said, “That guy’s played too many football games without his helmet,” but 93 years old is a testament to some pretty healthy living. And let’s not forget the bravery of his wife Betty, who was the first first lady alcoholic in a long and tawdry history of several first lady alcoholics to admit it and go into rehab. But what we don’t normally appreciate is that Betty invented rehab. The Betty Ford Clinic formed the basis for the recovery movement that continues to this day.
A little known fact is that once Ford got into office, he did pretty good for the environment too. Though never ratified by congress, in 1975 he proposed an energy program that would have given the US energy independence by 1985. He did put the Energy Research and Development Administration into law which provided for the creation of alternative energy supplies such as solar and geothermal energy.
He also got passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which among other things set up the now well-known national gasoline emergency reserves system.
During his presidency, there were no Americans fighting other nation’s wars. Ford was the first President since Eisenhower who ran for election without a single American fighting overseas. And he gave us the first mini-military victory after a losing war, successfully sending Air Force and Marines to take back the freighter Mayaguez, seized by Cambodian Commies.
Crime was increasing at a rate of 18 percent a year when Ford took office. The rate of increase went down to 9 percent the following year, and in the first quarter of ’76 had dropped to 4 percent.
The thing that always nailed him, his infamous quote that “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe and there never will be under a Ford administration,” sounds less asinine when you read his follow up to the moderator’s request for clarification:
“I don’t believe, Mr. Frankel, that the Yugoslavians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don’t believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. Each of those countries is independent, autonomous: it has its own territorial integrity and the United States does not concede that those countries are under the domination of the Soviet Union. As a matter of fact, I visited Poland, Yugoslavia and Rumania to make certain that the people of those countries understood that the president of the United States and the people of the United States are dedicated to their independence, their autonomy and their freedom.”
I get and appreciate his point here. And it was proved true 12 years later. So thanks Gerry. You were a helluva guy. You stood up for what was right, and you did it with humility, and without a single vote being cast.