President Theodore Roosevelt said, “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president.” President Gerald R. Ford knew this, believed this and lived this. The current White House doesn’t have a clue.
In 1974 America was staggered and battered after 11 years of trauma: the heartbreaking and often bloody civil rights movement, the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy and Malcom X, the carnage of Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, and President Nixon’s resignation. Mr. Ford took office and in 30 days pardoned President Nixon and in the next breath gave amnesty to 200,000 American men and women who had evaded the Vietnam draft. Both decisions were necessary for the country’s healing and both decisions likely cost Mr. Ford the 1976 presidential election.
Mr. Ford’s integrity, honesty and courage brought an end to our national nightmare 33 years ago and now, in death, he may be helping us end another nightmare; the Iraq War, a war based on lies, misinformation and greed. As a result, we are again a country battered and bruised. We have a White House incapable of admitting human frailty or error. Thousands of Americans and Iraqis are dead and wounded and more carnage is on the way. American oil companies have made record profits while hard working Americans have had their wallets and purses drained at the gas pumps. Few, if any, were surprised when gas prices decreased before the election and increased after the election.
Mr. Ford, and recently the 10-member Iraq Study Group, prove it is possible to live the content of TR’s country-first mandate. Just ponder the composition of the ISG: James A. Baker III, Lee H. Hamilton, Lawrence S. Eagleburger, Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., Edwin Meese III , Sandra Day O’Connor, Leon E. Panetta, William J. Perry, Charles S. Robb, and Alan K. Simpson. That is a diverse group to be sure.
Unlike many, if not most of America’s leaders today, Mr. Ford put the good of the country ahead of his party and his political aspirations. He did not ride the intoxicating wave of greed or power-hunger. Instead, he strode the solid ground of human decency.
In his eulogy today in Grand Rapids, Michigan, historian Richard Norton Smith said Mr. Ford “never turned to a focus group for his convictions” and understood that “the greatest of all freedoms is the freedom to be one’s self.”
In his eulogy to the man who had become his close friend, former President Jimmy Carter said no words were more fitting than the ones he used “almost exactly 30 years ago. I want to thank my predecessor for all he did to heal our land.”