Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Gerald Ford, RIP

Gerald Ford may well have been the most thoroughly decent man to have been president in the 20th century. In so many ways he was the right man after the cunning Nixon decamped. His presidency as such was not especially successful -- I remember attending a Whip Inflation Now rally in Washington, where I spent most of the '70s, when the slogan/program was announced and marveling at how empty of substance it all was. And he appointed J0hn Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court, a serious misstep. But he restored a sense of decency to the presidency. Perhaps we should not forgive him for that, for the Imperial Presidency has grown apace since then, to the detriment of the country. But at the time he was marvelously reassuring.

Jerry Ford was something of an accidental president. He had a safe seat from Grand Rapids and that helped him rise to House Minority Leader, then to the vice presidency when Agnew resigned in disgrace. His essential decency seemed reassuring, but I suspect that while he was OK as a minority leader he was just not cunning and calculating enough to be a completely successful president.

In a way, I owe my first job on Capitol Hill to Jerry Ford. Everyone said Hill experience was essential to a career inWashington, and I thought that's what I wanted at the time. I had contacts among Republicans and conservatives that led me to the vice president's Senate office, where a very nice and shrewd man -- how terrible I've forgotten his name now -- was placing conservatives in jobs. I was a confirmed libertarian then and seldom bothered to hide it, but I got along with conservatives.

There was a press aide job open in the office of Earl Ruth, from Salisbury, North Carolina. Earl, a former football coach who had been put in Congress by the brothers who owned the local furniture factory, had been in the Navy with Jerry Ford, and I'm sure the fact that his office recommended me was a factor in my getting the job. In fact, of course, Jerry Ford never met me and was entirely innocent of any knowledge about my job search with his old Navy friend.

Earl Ruth, another very nice man who was not cut out to be much of a politician, was swept out in the Watergate landslide of 1974 and I was unemployed again for the third Christmas in a row. But we survive one way or another.

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