FORD WOUNDS ANOTHER NATIONAL NIGHTMARE

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.”

Amen.

NY TIMES BLIND TO FORD’S LEGACY

I take no pleasure knowing that in the short life of this blog this is the second time I am taking the New York Times editorial page to task. I love the New York Times. It has been part of my life since I was a little boy when my father would pull the car up in front of what we called the news store in Pearl River, New York. I would scamper out, run in, buy the Times and his cigarettes, and run back to the car. I think I ran everywhere back then. The concept of walking places was entirely lost on me. What was the point of walking? If you ran, you got where you wanted to go faster!

In November I took the NYT editorial page to task for saying “While there are plenty of underprivileged in the current (military), at least they are there by their own choosing”. The editorial page was arguing against New York Representative Charles Rangel’s proposal to bring back the draft. Mr. Rangel’s proposal was rooted in the accurate assessment that the all-volunteer army leaves most of the fighting and dying to the underprivileged while the well-heeled and well-connected get a pass. The assertion that the underprivileged are in the military by their own choosing missed the fact that when you are underprivileged your options in life are horribly limited.

Today, in a lukewarm editorial on President Gerald Ford, the Times displays a bit of arrogance and stubbornness. Since Mr. Ford’s death, many on both sides of the aisle have, with great justification, praised his decency, integrity and political courage. Thirty days into his presidency he pardoned President Nixon and in the next breath gave amnesty to 200,000 men and women who had dodged the draft. Both decisions helped heal a country desperately in need of healing. In 1974, the year Mr. Ford took office, the country had been through 11 years of pure hell, starting with the 1963 assassination of President Kennedy, the often bloody and heartbreaking civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Robert F. Kennedy and Malcom X, the Watergate scandal and President Nixon’s resignation.

Many who disagreed with the pardon at the time, this writer included, have come to recognize the wisdom of Mr. Ford’s judgment. Mr. Ford knew this country, like a horribly battered and bloody fighter, needed time to heel. And while the pardon brought a severe backlash of criticism, and probably caused Mr. Ford the 1976 president election, history has proven him right. Unlike some recent presidents, Mr. Ford had the courage and integrity to do what all our presidents should do, put the country ahead of their political aspirations.

Yet today the New York Times editorial page says Mr. Ford’s “legacy is limited” and reaffirms its 1974 stance that the pardon was a mistake because “the nation is strong enough to endure almost anything but burying the truth.” This is true, kind of. However, the nation knew the truth. Moreover, just because a battered and bloody nation could have endured a Nixon trial doesn’t mean it should have been forced to endure yet another painful and damaging experience. The New York Times was, like me and many others, wrong then. Unlike me and many others, the New York Times is wrong now. It fails to recognize the country had suffered enough. To his credit and our country’s benefit, Mr. Ford did recognize this. He knew that the country, like an individual, needed and deserved time to heal. There is nothing limited about the legacy of a man who reminded us that we truly are a nation of the people, for the people and by the people – not a nation of a misguided few.