I was glad an ESPN talking head -- at halftime of the Emerald Bowl, before my beloved Bruins got slaughtered in the second half by Florida State -- discuss one aspect of Jerry Ford's image. He was probably the best athlete to occupy the White House, a skier and golfer of some skill in addition to being a football player invited to play professionally after a sterling college career -- back in 1933 or so, but still. But because he bumped his head and tripped a couple of times in public -- helped along by Chevy Chase back when Saturday Night Live was usually funny -- he got the reputation of being clumsy and subject to funny pratfalls.
Admittedly, interior linemen -- Ford was a center -- aren't known to be gazelle-like, but they have to be highly coordinated to succeed. Ford was highly successful at the University of Michigan, named the team's most valuable player. He hadn't suddenly become a complete klutz by 1975 or so.
In a way, however, the klutz image could be taken as a metaphor for other aspects of his presidency. As fondly as we may view him in retrospect, as much as we might appreciate his basic decency after Nixon, as grateful as we might be that he didn't hector us after leaving the presidency, his term in office was marked by some notable missteps. His Whip Inflation Now (WIN) program was a joke, he continued to approach the oil crisis with controls rather than the decontrol under Reagan that finally worked, his White House was factionalized -- Rumsfeld and Cheney were key players, honing their bureaucratic infighting capabilities -- and on and on. Perhaps his political klutziness was part-and-parcel of his basic decency. He was open and candid and far from calculating.