Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A President Dies: RIP

It caught me off guard, and left me surprisingly stunned and sad. Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States has died at age 93.

Now, 93 is a good long run. He was the oldest surviving president (living slightly longer than Ronald Reagan did). Though he has had health problems for the last few years, he always seemed poised, dignified, and alert. There was something about him that I always admired.

I was in the 4th grade when President Ford lost the White House to James Earl Carter; therefore, I don't have a first hand, mature, accurate memory of his presidential skills. But history has shown him to be a moderate, a decent person, a man of integrity, a person who wanted to offer healing to his country in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

He survived two assassination attempts and his wife was a very modern First Lady (and former First Lady), speaking openly about her own psychiatric care (and thus reducing the stigma of psychotherapy), her own addiction issues, her battle with cancer, and her support of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Roe vs. Wade decision. In 1999, Gerald Ford told Larry King in a television interview that he and the former first lady remained pro-choice. He further said that abortion was a personal matter and should not be part of a party's political platform.

President Ford was the last moderate Republican president before the "new" conservative movement took over the leadership of his party. And though satirical comedy portrayed him as clumsy, the truth was that he had been an All-American college football star who had the opportunity to play professional football. He went to law school instead. He also enjoyed golf and skiing.

Ford's presidency was brief. After a lengthy career in the House of Representatives (including service as the Minority Leader), he was appointed Vice-President after Spiro Agnew resigned. Not long after, President Nixon resigned and so without ever standing for national election, Gerald Ford had the distinction of being both Vice-President and President of the United States. He did run for "re"-election in 1976 but lost to a southern governor (to whom he later became a very good friend). I seem to remember his being very gracious about his defeat and he would later be seen at important events and supporting special causes. He continued to have presidential dignity as well as a perceived accessibility, a touch of the "common" person.

Ford represents for me a more liberal time in our country's history, when people of goodwill and integrity could disagree about how to promote the "general welfare," while still sharing a progressive vision of liberty and equality for all people. He opposed the impeachment of President Clinton and was very proud of the times in the 20th century when, with bi-partisan cooperation, the U.S. made a stand for fairness, justice, and liberty. Examples he would mention of America's finer moments included repealing the Jim Crow laws, surviving the Great Depression, and defeating powers of aggression in World War 2.

I am not a member of President Ford's party, but I am glad that he was president. I am a fan of his successor as well, and that too is a tribute to Gerald Ford. He didn't inspire polarization. I can respect and admire both the Republican Gerald Ford and the Democrat Jimmy Carter. That is due largely to the civility and dignity of an era that now seems long past. Perhaps the days of respect and progressive thought across party lines will return. Gerald Ford is a reminder for me that such a hope can be realized.

Rest in peace President Ford.
"Let light perpetual shine upon him."

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