A 'good and decent man' from another eraAs most Americans know, former US president Gerald Ford died earlier this week. He is widely remembered as a straightforward and eminently decent man, the complete antithesis of his predecessor. His pardon of the criminal Richard Nixon is widely attributed to his loss in the 1976 election, but even the foremost critic at the time, Sen. Edward Kennedy, later admitted that in retrospect, it was the right decision. I'm not sure that sanctioning presidential impunity was the best precedent to set and we may be living the consequences today. Though I will concede that at worst, it was the wrong decision made for the right reason.
Others criticize his support for the Indonesian conquest of East Timor, an invasion which left at least 200,000 dead, almost one-third of the population at the time. He was probably badly advised by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who some believe is a war criminal.
But generally, he is remembered fondly even by those on the other side of the political aisle. All in all, he was probably the right man for the moment.
In a 2004 interview that was not published until today, Ford told The Washington Post that the invasion of Iraq was a terrible idea.
He also criticized Vice-President Richard Cheney and then-War Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Both had served as Ford's chief of staff and Rumsfeld had also been Pentagon chief for the 38th president.
"[Cheney] was an excellent chief of staff. First class," Ford said. "But I think Cheney has become much more pugnacious" as vice president. He said he agreed with former secretary of state Colin L. Powell's assertion that Cheney developed a "fever" about the threat of terrorism and Iraq. "I think that's probably true."
Ford also said of his chief diplomat Henry Kissinger, "I think he was a super secretary of state, but Henry in his mind never made a mistake, so whatever policies there were that he implemented, in retrospect he would defend."
Apparently Kissinger's mentality rubbed off on his colleagues Cheney and Rumsfeld.
Strangely, President Bush did not mention any of this in his eulogies of the first man to have ascended to the presidency without winning a national election.
Ford was quite clearly a poltician from a different era. A time, for better or worse, when ideas had a relationship with politics, before cynicism had completely taken over.
This editorial from the Detroit Free Press mentions a 2001 quote by Ford which really describes everything that's wrong with politics today.
"At times it feels as if American politics consists largely of candidates without ideas hiring consultants without convictions to stage campaigns without content. Increasingly the result is elections without voters."
He was often called as a 'good and decent man.' But you almost get the sense that some people who described him that way were trying to damn him with faint praise. It's sad that our politics have sunk so low (and the citizenry is hardly innocent in all this) that the 'good and decent man' seems to be exception rather than the rule. We need more of them in our public life, not fewer.
Update: The Progressive's Matthew Rotschild takes a somewhat harsher assessment of Ford's presidency.