Gerald Ford

My first memory of Gerald Ford was one of annoyance; this jerk was on my TV when my TV show was supposed to be on! And he was on all my TV stations! Logic tells me that I should be equally annoyed with Jimmy Carter, who would have been his debate partner and thus equally culpable of hogging space on my TV, but I have no memory of him at all, just Gerald Ford, stolid and refusing to get out of the way of, oh, Happy Days or Good Times or whatever it was I was wanting to watch. If I could have, I would have voted against Ford just for that. My excuse for such a vengeful, uninformed vote would have been that I was seven at the time.

Indeed, while I was alive when Ford was President, his entire administration occurred well before I had any knowledge of or interest in politics of any sort, so I note his passing with at most a sense of detachment. My memories of Ford are mostly of him being parodied as clumsy for falling down stairs and appearing on an ad for the Boy Scouts, and then, some time later, being the subject of a Saturday Night Live skit in which Dana Carvey, playing a Tom Brokaw trying to get ahead on his canned stories, declares that Gerald Ford had been consumed by wolves, and that he was delicious. Upon discovering that Ford had died, my first impulse was to check to make sure its note of Ford’s passing included a shout-out to that skit. I was not disappointed. I suppose it may be telling that my entire cultural legacy of Ford consists of him being mocked and/or fitting himself into an Eagle Scout uniform, but whether it’s telling more about me or him is something I’ll leave untouched for now.

I wish I had something more substantive to say about the man. Which is to say I know I could speak more substantively about him — my grasp of recent American history and the implications of his presidency are pretty firm — but I lack any compelling emotional or intellectual impetus to do so. I don’t really remember him as anything but a reasonably genial ex-president, of the old school of ex-presidentery, the one that says you spend your sunset years playing golf, doing charitable work, and generally staying well out of the way. He did that well enough that I don’t really miss him. I wonder what he’d think about that.

45 Comments on “Gerald Ford”

  1. Ford (no relation to me — he was adopted) was one of only two remaining members of the Warren Commission — chefs of the magic bullet theory. Now only Arlen Spector remains.

  2. I, too, have no memory of Ford really. Honestly I remember he was remarkable at my young age because his last name was like my cousins first and the name of a car. Woo! Teh president car!

    AHem, but he seemed like a genial fellow and I like how you characterize his sunset years. One could do worse, I suppose.

  3. I remember considering myself a Republican in 1976 mostly because I liked Gerald Ford. And I liked Gerald Ford mostly because he was the president, and at age 8 my main conception of politics was that the president was a good guy so he had to be reelected.

    (Earlier, while Watergate was going down, my parents tell me that I defended Nixon on the same grounds. But I don’t really remember it.)

    I suspect that a significant number among the electorate, enough to swing some close elections, form their political preferences along more or less the same lines.

  4. … this jerk was on my TV when my TV show was supposed to be on!
    Yikes, that’s my first memory of JFK! Now I feel old. (I wonder what the show was? Clearly that was pre Lost in Space, and Kennedy wouldn’t have been pre-empting Fireball XL-5 on Saturday morning. It was probably some dumb speech about boring stuff like the Cuban Missle Crisis.)
    Yup, for Ford my memories are action scene memories: falling down the helicopter steps, hitting people with golf balls, falling out of the window into the Rose Garden (no, wait, that was Chevy Chase). And WIN buttons.
    But I did vote for him; the last Rpresidential candidate I ever voted for.

  5. Correction: Ford was the last member of the Warren Commission. Arlen Specter worked with them at Ford’s behest, but he was NOT a member of the commission proper.

    Most of my memories of Gerald Ford are the following:

    1) He pardoned Richard Nixon.
    2) Chevy Chase pretended to be him. A lot. And fell down. A lot.
    3) He liked beer and nachos with Homer Simpson.* :)
    4) He beat out Reagan as the oldest president…and for no good reason, that made me happy.

    * just so we’re clear, I know that was a caricature, and not really him doing the voice.

  6. Gerald Ford always seemed like a nice enough guy, granted his administration left no lingering memories behind. His wife has left a bigger legacy behind because of her addictions, and I believe Chevy Chase owes most of his career to Ford being somewhat clumsy.

  7. Heh. I have a similar, if sort of opposite, memory of President Ford. I was too young to understand anything about politics or democracy but I was old enough to know that Ford was our President, and that was a Very Important Thing. So when the elections rolled around, there was this Carter guy trying to take away the presidency from Ford. That was simply unacceptable. A group of us grade schoolers marched around the playground chanting “Carter Sucks, Carter Sucks…” Until the teachers made us stop.

    Well, that was the last time I “voted” Republican.

    I also remember Ford because he went to my alma mater, the University of Michigan, and played on the football team. (Hey, a big deal at UM!) We have the Ford Presidential Library here. And, my graduate school was recently named after him: The Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy.

    Perhaps his wife is more famous for her additions, but in my typical ignorance of most popular culture stuff I had no idea about it until WizarDru posted it. I also had no idea about Chevy Chase pretending to be him, and never saw the Simpson episode with Ford eating beer and nachos with Homer. (I think I can still count on two hands the number of Simpson episodes I’ve seen.)

  8. Matt McIrvin: I remember considering myself a Republican in 1976 mostly because I liked Gerald Ford. And I liked Gerald Ford mostly because he was the president, and at age 8 my main conception of politics was that the president was a good guy so he had to be reelected.

    You know, I suspect this is similar to how most Republicans think at age. Either you were enlightened at 8, or they are stunted at later ages.

  9. What I remember of President Ford, which I became politically aware during (and because of) the end of the Nixon Presidency, is that he saved the Office of the President by pardoning Nixon. An action for which he has been roundly condemned. If he hadn’t taken that fire (and used the Veto pen a lot), the Congress would have grabbed much more power than it did, throwing our country into a different Constitutional Crisis than we are facing now.

    The flip side of that is we’re still dealing with those issues and grudges (Cheney and Rumsfeld).

  10. It’s funny that your first memory is the presidency is Gerald Ford interupting your T.V. watching and there is another poster whose first memory is Kennedy interupting his T.V. watching. The differences in Administration comes down to a difference in Age.

    My first memories of the presidency is Richard Nixon. I loathed and despised him because he interupted my T.V. watching. He resigned when I was 10 and I remember vividly playing outside when my mother called me into the house to tell me there was something on T.V. that I might want to see. It was Nixon announcing his resignation. I jumped for joy.

    Having grown up and learned some stuff about recent American history I have learned that my first impression of Nixon was the right one. He deserved to be loathed only for reasons other than he interrupted my television watching.

    As for memories of Gerald Ford, I liked him for many of the reasons that others posted. I was young and thought the president, being the president, was a good guy. The fact that he was a U of M football alumnus meant alot to me; I grew up in Windsor Ontario and followed the Wolverines with a passion.


  11. I remember the reporting on JFK’s assassination interrupting Bugs Bunny.

    I remember Gerald Ford getting hit/being hit? with golf balls.

    Chevy Chase falling down, mocking Ford, made me laugh every week on SNL.

  12. Here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, President Ford is quite a big deal. The airport is named after him, a highway is named after him, signs proclaiming his birthplace abound. I don’t think I’m that far off when I say that this town has been planning on his death for years, as his burial spot is already picked out at the Ford Presidential Museum right along the Grand River downtown. His brother, a very nice man, lived down the street from my parents. Obviously, my prayers are with his family. But, at the same time, I’m just dying to know who all will be coming into town for the funeral.

    Things I remember about President Ford? We share the same birthday. Chevy Chase. And, of course, Squeaky Fromme.

  13. I remember bits and pieces of Ford. I suppose it doesn’t help that he was the president for only two years. But, looking back, I think he stepped up and did what he could to heal a broken nation.

  14. Bad: Retained Kissinger as Secretary of State, and along with him, gave the government of Indonesia carte blanche to perform genocide in East Timor.

    Good: Made human rights into a real bargaining issue in the Helsinki process, as opposed to a mere occasion for rhetorical posturing.

    Bad: Gave Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld their first major Executive Branch jobs.

    Good: In his later years, called for full legal recognition of gay marriage at the federal level.

    All in all: the last Republican President to be neither mentally impaired nor barking mad.

  15. I think there’s something interesting about the fact that so many of us seem to have first memories of “current events” based on them having interrupted our juvenile TV viewing.

    They broke into my favorite show to announce that Martin Luther King had been shot. I still don’t know how that episode of Bewitched ended.

    (That highbrow enough for ya Chang?)

  16. It’s too late for me to chime in with my own first political memory–yet another person who raged at John Kennedy because he was preempting Bozo the Clown–so I’ll skip that.

    Gerald Ford: One of the problems facing him was of course inflation, and he had a program, which as I recall it (which may be, and probably is, a severe disservice to the man) was mostly a cute slogan, Whip Inflation Now. With buttons that said WIN on them. But I lived, as I still do, in Massachusetts, which had just gone through its first sustained period of being the rhetorical whipping boy for the Republicans, and while Ford certainly wasn’t hated, he wasn’t loved, either. The WIN program was much mocked. And we had a local ice cream & sandwich chain, Brigham’s, which wasn’t impressed with the WIN program. So they developed their own program of combo meals, bargains, etc., and pitched it as their own anti-inflation program, Stop Inflation Now. With, of course, buttons to pass out to customers.

    The buttons, of course, said SIN on them, in great big letters, and they were quite popular.

  17. I work in the theatre where the first debate was held in 1976 and the doorway from the greeroom onto the stage has an inscription over it – “President Gerald Ford bumped his head here 9/23/1976”

  18. It’s always a bit of a shock to hear that the stories which shaped my own political/adult consciousness – Vietnam, Watergate, early feminism – are more or less completely unknown to, and often dismissed as ancient and unimportant history by, those who came after me.

    I was very anti-Establishment in ’74, but I remember being so damn relieved and grateful when Ford was sworn in I could’ve kissed him. that faded, of course, by ’76 (The Pardon sure didn’t help), but I have never lost my affection for the fellow thanks to that moment in time.

  19. I just barely remember Ford taking office after Nixon resigned. My understanding of Watergate amounted to little more than Nixon cheated on the election somehow, and I didn’t understand why this Ford character was getting to be President instead of McGovern. I do remember Carter winning the election in ’76 (my Mom woke me up to tell me that “our guy” won, and I turned nine a few days later)—but I remember nothing in between of the administration itself.

    Not even the TV interruptions, because I wasn’t allowed to watch all that much TV anyway. I guess, based on the postings here, that I missed out on a coming-of-age experience.

  20. Yeah, not so much with the sharing of Squeaky Fromme. She never looked like she bathed too frequently.

    I just drove past the presidential museum on my way to lunch and they had the crane out, lifting the top of the tomb off the burial site. Apparently, the local police have been prepping for the past month for this, as Ford was in increasingly poor health. I’m not particularly looking forward to the former presidential posse appearing, due to the increased traffic and law enforcement costs.

    But at least GR will be again known for something other than Amway.

  21. As someone who has a degree in Poli Sci and worked in Washington sadly my feelings about this President are equally empty. I respect you tried to post regardless of the feeling, because if I had attempted it would have likely came off snarky or glib without intention. But I suspect a good portion of those under 50 probably have a similar feeling to yours, weird. Not much of a legacy, but then he didn’t do any harm and isn’t that the first rule of good medicine.

  22. In this crowd it’s a little scary when the first president you remember on TV was Eisenhower. (Actually, considering that Ike left office roughly forty-five years ago, it’s probably scary in any crowd) And I do remember the Kennedy-Nixon debates preempting “my shows”.

    Not unexpectedly with that introduction I do remember Ford well. He gets serious points for being neither Richard Nixon nor Jimmy Carter, the presidents who bracketed him. It’s all in the context.

    BTW, I’m writing this in Sacramento about 300 yards from where Squeaky Fromme tried to assasinate Ford.

  23. I was eight when Watergate unfolded and was well into my American History phase after getting bored with my Greek Mythology phase. I had the Time-Life Children’s Encyclopedia of the US Presidents and dutifully read the entire set several times. I was fascinated by Watergate and when I wasn’t rattling off NASA facts I was going on about presidential facts to the annoyance of everyone else (I grew up in Orange County and it was still solidy pro-Nixon – even in 1974).

    Ford’s legacy will be most likely be only a Jeopardy quiz answer. I always found him to be a decent guy despite the weirdness of his presidency. Interestingly, the Republican establishment wanted him to name George H.W. Bush as his VP instead of Nelson Rockafeller. Ford declined and the Bush family has held a grudge against him since (Ford was never invited by Bush to visit the White House)

  24. Looking at Ford’s legacy from the perspective of someone who was in his mid-30s at that time, I think the country was fortunate that he was there. He pardoned Nixon, knowing that it would severely damage his own political future, but intending to speed up the country’s healing after the harm that Nixon had done. In my opinion, history will agree that this was the best thing that could have been done for the country – and an act that took political courage and a willingness to put the country first.

    For no reason other than being a terrible nit-picker when it comes to historical accuracy, the satirical take-offs on Ford being clumsy were possible because he had injured a knee playing as center on the University of Michigan football team. It became a “trick” knee that would give out on him without warning, causing him to fall – sometimes at the most inopportune and embarassing times, such as descending the airstairs from Air Force One while on TV.

    As I recall the political scene at that time, even his political opponents agreed that he was one of the most honest and decent individuals ever to inhabit the White House. Not brilliant, imaginative, or innovative – but that was not what the country needed at that time. I’m not sure that I would ever have voted for him in that era unless the alternative was really, really bad, but looking back I think that we were very lucky he was in that place at that time.

    With best wishes,
    – Tom –

  25. If anyone would like to feel old, I have a running argument with a friend of mine over whether or not I was of sufficient age to remember anything of the Iran-Contra affair. I maintain that I remember Ollie North in his dress greens giving a televised deposition, while he maintains… well, that I don’t remember any such thing. It’s a dumb argument.

    But yeah, Gerald Ford. While I am cognizant of the things he did, that comes out mostly as “he pardoned Nixon, then managed not to run the country into the ground.”

    This makes me wonder how the next generation will view the presidents of my younger years: the late Reagan, the first Bush, and Clinton. Something like this, I imagine:

    Reagan: Alzheimer’s
    Bush Sr: Persian Gulf
    Clinton: Lewinsky

    Maybe that’s about right, all things considered.

  26. Grrr. The CW is that Ford was a decent guy and maybe that’s true, I don’t know, but his main legacy will always be the Nixon pardon and that act did NOT “heal the nation” (I’m old enough to remember). Rather, halting the impeachment process in its tracks allowed Nixon’s brand of corrupt, unrepentent, dirty-tricks Republicanism to continue to take root and grow in power. That gave us Reagan and Bush Sr., both of whom also should have been impeached and jailed for their crimes against the nation and Constitution. Now we are on the third round of this recurrent pattern, and each time the country comes out more damaged. It’s no accident that so many people now in power are Nixon and Reagan re-treads. A case can be made that just about every major intractable problem we face today, both political and economic, is at least partly a result of letting Nixon skate.

  27. Thanks, PaintedJaguar, you said it better than I could’ve. Ford “saved” the nation from the awful fate of holding a President accountable for criminal acts. Pardon me [sic] for not being grateful.

    I have some understanding of the psychology and sociology behind not “speaking ill of the dead”, not to mention sympathy with the simple humanity involved. But let’s not be stupid about it. Reagan as “the person who won the Cold War”? Ford as “the person who healed a nation”? Please. We do our dead no honor by rewriting history.

    (A friend of my has promised — at my instigation — to stand up at my service and say something like, “He was kinda lazy, and sometimes he picked his nose in public, but I liked him anyway.”)

  28. PaintedJaguar

    A case can be made that just about every major intractable problem we face today, both political and economic, is at least partly a result of letting Nixon skate.

    Really? Then why don’t you make that case.

    I’d certainly like to hear it.

  29. CoolBlue, a great deal of the anger that seems to have fueled the Republican Revolution and hard line of movement conservatism appears to come from the belief of conservatives too young to remember the Nixon era that he was unjustly forced from office, that he did either did nothing wrong at all, or at the very least did “nothing that everyone else didn’t do.” To hear the young’uns tell it, it was a partisan lynch mob that did in Nixon, and the Wicked Liberals who did it need to be punished. That’s why they weren’t receptive to the argument that there was something wrong with impeaching Clinton over getting a blow job and lieing about it–they truly thought it was closely parallel to what happened to Richard Nixon, and that liberals just didn’t like it now that the shoe was on the other foot.

    That’s nonsense, of course, as anyone old enough to have followed the House Judiciary hearings knows, and if we’d had the trial–whether an impeachment trial or a criminal trial–there’d be a clear legal record with testimony and evidence, much harder to dismiss as purely partisan than the work of two reporters, or even the transcripts of those House Judiciary hearings.

  30. Lis Carey

    if we’d had the trial–whether an impeachment trial or a criminal trial–there’d be a clear legal record with testimony and evidence, much harder to dismiss as purely partisan than the work of two reporters

    Perhaps you’re right. But this doesn’t go anywhere near justifying the claim that every major intractable problem we face today, both political and economic, is at least partly a result of letting Nixon skate.

  31. I remember President Ford as the man who brought a badly needed dignity and sense of decorum to the White House after the Watergate affair.

  32. Is it just me, or has Ford’s funeral “hooplah” lasted longer than his presidency….enough already.

%d bloggers like this: