2007-01-18 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Gerald Ford Appreciated More In Death Than In Life
By Neil S. Friedman


"The evil that men do lives after them…"

With all the pomp and circumstance following the death of Gerald Ford that quote from Shake-speare's "Julius Caesar" obviously did not apply to our 38th president.

It was, to say the least, astonishing, not by the extraordinary amount of media coverage after Ford's passing, but by the level of praise heaped upon him. When someone dies after having led this nation for any period, it's natural for remembrance and respect. In Ford's case, it seemed rather fitting for someone who many considered "a decent guy" with a long history of public service, but disproportionate to his brief, though noteworthy, tenure in the White House.

Of course, it would have been disrespectful to malign the man so soon after his death, but, then again, there was little, if anything, to disapprove of. Despite a 29-month term as Commander-in-Chief - following an even shorter (eight months) tenure as vice president - Ford was president for two notable events in the late 20th century: the pardoning of Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace and paved the way for his ascension, and the fall of Saigon in April, 1975, following a tumultuous decade of involvement in the Vietnam War that split the nation nearly as much as the ongoing war in Iraq.

President Gerald Ford announcing Richard Nixon's pardon on Sept. 8, 1974.President Gerald Ford announcing Richard Nixon's pardon on Sept. 8, 1974. In many recollections of the Ford presidency, it was repeatedly noted that he healed the nation in the wake of the Watergate scandal that brought dishonor to the presidency. Ford fittingly remarked after Nixon's resignation: "…our long national nightmare is over…"

But, a month after the resignation, when Ford pardoned the disgraced president, some Americans were disgusted that Nixon was getting off without having to answer for the crimes he and others perpetrated. On the other hand, die-hard Nixon supporters and others felt Ford made the right decision and it was time for the nation to move forward.

But the memories also briefly revived the time when President Ford turned his back and refused to come to New York City's aid in the midst of financial crisis, which the Daily News immortalized in the headline: "Ford To New York City-Drop Dead."

My foremost recollection of Gerald Ford, in addition to Chevy Chase's amusing portrayal of him as a clumsy oaf on "Saturday Night Live," was the day he succeeded Richard Nixon on August 8, 1974 - one month before the pardon was announced.

I was at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Roosevelt Raceway in Nassau County on a typically warm dog day of summer with my ex-wife and some friends. Woodstock had occurred five years earlier, but the scene, sans the mud and a crowd less than half its size, was strikingly similar - overwhelmingly under-30, dressed primarily in jeans and cut-offs, t-shirts, some bare-chested men and sandals or shoeless and the distinct odor of marijuana wafting through the air.

About midway through the concert David Crosby was at the microphone to say he had an important announcement. No sooner did he tell the throng that Richard Nixon had resigned and Gerald Ford was president, then a deafening wave of applause spread across the area quicker than the odor of marijuana that had lingered before the music started.

Ford was thrust to the presidency in the waning days of the Vietnam War and he was still in office as the last American soldiers came home when it was obvious the cause was hopeless. Consequently, it was ironic that Ford died shortly before President George Bush announced his decision to send more troops to the Iraqi quagmire when public opinion and political support for that conflict - like the Vietnam War 32 years ago - had greatly dwindled.

Somewhat contrary to his nice guy image, after Ford was laid to rest, an interview he gave to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward revealed criticisms of his successors and a highly critical indictment of George W. Bush for his handling of the war in Iraq.

While he seemed to live life as a mild-mannered man, before he departed he finally took one last opportunity to say a few things on his mind - probably not for retribution, but simply to know that he was leaving, as he lived, on his own terms.

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