Gerald Ford was the last of a dying breed, a species that seems as unreal to many progressives today as a unicorn: an honorable, centrist Republican President.
Ford was famously our only wholly unelected President, having replaced the disgraced Spiro T. Agnew as Vice-President and then ascending to the Presidency upon Richard Nixonâ€™s resignation. Ford then made the tough decision to pardon Richard Nixon; a move for which he was chastised at the time, but praised by historians later for putting the ugly Watergate chapter of history behind America. This may have contributed to the Republicansâ€™ landslide defeat in the 1974 midterms, as well as Gerald Fordâ€™s only loss in 1976. Yet the essential decency of Fordâ€™s character always shone through; despite the hostile political climate, Gerald Ford was nearly elected in his own right in 1976. Had the election been held a few weeks later, Fordâ€™s momentum probably would have carried him to victory over Jimmy Carter. A few thousand votes switched in Ohio would have elected Ford, and he was certainly not helped by the New York Daily Newsâ€™ famous headline after failing to bailout the city; â€œFord to City: Drop Dead.â€
Gerald Fordâ€™s narrow victory over a right-wing challenge from Ronald Reagan in the 1976 primaries was a harbinger of the direction the Republican Party would take. Gerald Ford was the last Republican President to come from the ranks of the entrepreneurial, small-town Midwest, and was the kind of man who dominated the Republican Party from the beginning of the twentieth century through the Goldwater Revolution. Ford was a committed internationalist as well as an anti-Communist, in favor of civil rights and civil liberties, and a small government, but not one so minute as to be cruel and ineffective. Fordâ€™s Vice-President, Nelson Rockefeller, exemplified the fundamentally liberal Republican elite that would soon become obsolete in American politics. The Republican Party instead came to speak with a Southern accent, dominated by theocrats and overwhelming corporate power. Gerald Ford remained proudly pro-choice until the end in a party where such views had become unfashionable and Ford would not apologize for appointing John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court, a man savaged by most of todayâ€™s conservatives as a â€œliberal activist.â€
President Fordâ€™s record as president in domestic and foreign policy was mixed at best, but it is a tragedy that todayâ€™s Republican Party is more a Party of Bush than a Party of Ford.
By: Alex Madorsky