Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald R. Ford: 1913-2006

To my dismay, I was far from my computer when I first learned of the death of former President Gerald R. Ford.

I was dismayed because I would have liked to have written something about this story while it was breaking. Instead, the news has already appeared on the front pages of newspapers. While it was not the top headline, it was above the fold on the Daily Progress delivered to my front lawn this morning; it was the top story in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, which I picked up at a Sheetz on the way home from Washington. Both those papers used the AP report.

The news was announced too late (11:45 p.m. EST) for it to make the print editions of the Washington Post and Washington Times available this morning in Charlottesville.

On its web site, however, the Post has a historical review of Ford's life by J. Y. Smith and presidential biographer Lou Cannon (who has produced multiple volumes on Ronald Reagan); it also has an audio remembrance by veteran political reporter David Broder, as well as a photo slide show of his life and career.

The Post has also published the statement by President Bush issued by the White House, in which he says:

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.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as White House chief of staff during the Ford Administration, issued a statement of his own:
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.
For its part, the Washington Times has an obituary by Jennifer Harper. It begins simply:
Gerald R. Ford, the nation's 38th president, has died.

He was 93.

"My family joins me in sharing the difficult news that Gerald Ford, our beloved husband, father, grandfather and great grandfather has passed away at 93 years of age," Betty Ford said in a brief statement issued from her husband's office in Rancho Mirage, Calif., yesterday. "His life was filled with love of God, his family and his country."

The statement neither said where Mr. Ford died nor gave the cause of death. Mr. Ford, the longest-living president, had battled pneumonia and heart disease in recent years.
I have written several times about Gerald Ford and my admiration of him for his principles. He was a Goldwater Republican who truly believed in limited government and used his veto pen to check the profligacy of Congress. (When one compares the Congress controlled by Democrats in the mid-1970s to that controlled by Republicans for the past several years, those Democrats of 30 years ago seem downright frugal.)

My most recent blog post on Gerald Ford came on the occasion, just last month, when he became the longest-living American president, surpassing the lifespans of Ronald Reagan and John Adams.

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending an awards luncheon at the National Press Club
where Vice President Dick Cheney spoke at a luncheon honoring the recipients of the annual Gerald R. Ford Journalism Prizes. Cheney, you'll recall, served as Ford's White House Chief of Staff before serving in Congress and both Bush administrations.
In August 2005, I wrote about Dr. Yanek Mieczkowski's book, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, which provides a much-needed re-examination of the Ford Administration.

Ford was underestimated in terms of his intellectual abilities and his political skills. Seen by many as a transitory figure -- a caretaker president, if you will -- he had strong beliefs about the proper role of government (hint: circumscribed in both the economic and social spheres of life) and how to work with Congress and the press when both were hostile to his views and approach.

Ford, unlike most recent presidents, had a great deal of respect for journalists. He made himself accessible to them in ways unthinkable today. (Ann Compton of ABC News commented on this characteristic during radio broadcasts this morning.) He also had a great deal of respect for the American people. There was nothing smug or arrogant about him.

I hope to write more about Gerald Ford before the day is out.

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