Wednesday, December 27, 2006

"Our long national nightmare is over"

I had forgotten that Gerald Ford coined that phrase when he assumed the presidency in 1974. How sad and ironic that he would survive to see another Republican president lead us into a new national nightmare, again because of egotism, an inability to tell right from wrong and deep disrespect for the Constitution and for law generally.

Ford's presidency was probably doomed from the start--being a Republican and taking over for Nixon in the wake of Watergate--but it was dealt a fatal blow when he pardoned his disgraced predecessor. Many people on both sides of the aisle came to believe that Ford did the right thing; I have never been one of them, but I respected his reasoning. During Ford's term I predicted that he would be much loved as an ex-President (and that we should accord him that status as soon as possible), and for once I was right.

This morning on NPR Cokie Roberts reminded us that she is the daughter of Hale Boggs, who was the Democratic Majority Leader in the House. She related how Ford told her that he and her father would get in a cab (not a limousine, notice) to go to one of the network news shows, and ask each other, "OK, what are we going to argue about?" They would go on the air, argue, get back in a cab together and go to the Capitol, where they were best friends. That's a spirit we have lost in the past couple of decades; it was one of the secrets of American democracy--and thus one of the causes for the success that the nation achieved in the Twentieth Century, and its passing has been a real blow to the American system.

Ford's presidency is also a reminder of the importance of vice. Or, rather, of vices, as in vice-presidents. If Nixon had not picked Sprio Agnew, and if Agnew had not been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, Tricky Dick would likely have served out his term, causing even more harm to the nation. In contrast, if Cheney were not Bush's VP, the calls for his ouster would be much louder.

Gerald Ford was not one of our great presidents, but he was right for his time, and that is a lot.

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