Friday, December 29, 2006

Gerald Ford's Indecent Interval

The day after former President Gerald Ford died, the Washington Post's Bob Woodward released an interview in which Ford said that the Iraq War was a "mistake." Conservative pundit Bill Bennett criticized Ford's comments, saying, "Just how decent, how courageous, is what Jerry Ford did with Bob Woodward? He slams Bush & Cheney to Woodward in 2004, but asks Woodward not to print the interview until he's dead. The effect of what Ford did is to protect himself, ensuring he can't be asked by others about his critiques, ensuring that there can be no dialogue."

Bennett is right. Releasing the interview posthumously deprived us of the opportunity to accuse the 93-year-old former President of being a traitor and of wanting America to lose. And so instead of having a "dialogue" with Ford about the War in Iraq, Bennett was forced to accuse Ford of being a coward and not being "decent," while Ford--conveniently--"doesn't have to defend himself," according to Bennett. By dying, Ford effectively cut and run from any discussion about why he hates America.

Once someone has died, it's a lot more difficult to attack them without people thinking you are being unseemly. While it was very courageous of Bennett to do so anyway, his words have opened him up to a torrent of criticism, the kind of criticism that Ford avoided by dying. Bennett realizes that it would have made him look a lot better if he had picked on a 93-year-old man while he was still alive instead of the day after he died, but Bennett cares more about this country than he does about what people think of him personally. It's too bad that Ford was not as brave as Bennett is.

Only someone as morally irreproachable as Bill Bennett could have made a convincing case that President Ford should be vilified. Even many of his political opponents say that Ford was a decent man who was honest and served with distinction and credit him with healing the country after Watergate. While many disagree with Ford's decision to pardon President Nixon, they usually concede that he did it with good intentions. Others salute him for having a good sense of humor, despite the fact that Chevy Chase's portrayal of him as a bumbling idiot was probably unfair. (What is Chevy Chase going to do now? Sadly, his career will probably go the way of Vaughan Meader's after Kennedy was assassinated.) Some point out that his support for détente with the Soviet Union and signing the Helsinki Accords lessened Cold War tensions. Many have saluted Ford's reputation for reaching out to people on the other side of the aisle and his support of an inclusive Republican Party.

But what some see as Ford's decency may actually have been evidence of moral laxity. Many people might be shocked to know that in 2002 he joined the Republican Unity Coalition, which supports making homosexuality a "nonissue." "I have always believed in an inclusive policy, in welcoming gays and others into the party," Ford said. "I think the party has to have an umbrella philosophy if it expects to win elections." Gerald Ford (whose real name, by the way, was Leslie) was not only on the wrong side on the War in Iraq, he was on the wrong side on the culture wars as well.

So while it is traditional not to speak ill of the dead, or at least to wait a decent interval, I think Bill Bennett is right that we should not let social niceties prevent us from pointing out what a terrible person President Ford actually was. We are at war and people must decide whether they believe in President Ford's kind of "decency" or Bill Bennett's. Which side are you on?

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greymatters said...

I loved the post, JS. The Vaughan Meader reference is priceless.

Anonymous said...

Gerald Ford's rambling ruminations (and, for the record, I am not at all convinced he said anything of the kind - the sound quality of the Woodward audio was so poor that what I heard was, "pass the buttermilk, rubber cheeks") on America's Iraq policy should be greeted with the polite but pained smile normally reserved for those who cannot control their intestinal gas problems in public venues.

What does a 93-year-old man know about fighting terrorists that a tactical genius like George W. Bush doesn't know much better? Sure, Ford won the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with 9 engagement stars) for naval service in WWII and actually stayed around until he could be discharged, so some might suggest he has more experience than Bush, who courageously flew jets for the National Guard and kind of disappeared once in awhile, but I don't buy it. Besides, fascism and Islamofascism are totally different, one has Muslims and the other does not.

Bush should just ignore Gerald Ford's rude opinions, which should be easier now that he's dead.

benmerc said...

Nice piece. And the good thing about it is you don't have to work very hard when it comes to skewing a schmuck and ingrate like Bennett, as Jon Stewart has said so many times... they make it so damn easy ( Of course we all know it really is not THAT guys work very hard at this).

I will say it is odd all this attention from what ever quarter, as the press and his party have virtually ignored Mr. Ford for the past 30+ years. He certainly does deserve recognition for his life's work and service, but for the most part he has more or less been out of the political loop for some time, and I am guessing some of the reasoning being his own choice.

I am not a Republican ( Jon, you may have guessed by now) nor am I particularly a big Gerald Ford fan...but despite all of the bland and bumbling depictions of him, Mr. Ford had more service and effort for this country (the non-partisan kind- also) in his little finger when compared to the body of average Americans or any average American politico, and his record readily reflects that fact. Bless him and his family.

Unknown said...

Happy New Year.

I have added you to my Blog. Next year will be a good year because Blair will no longer be PM.

James Higham said...

Not just Bill Bennett. I also said that about him. He was one of Them and had much to answer for.

On another note, Happy New Year, Jon.

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to explain to my children (including the adopted one we rescued from a gay couple) why President Ford was taken from us in the same week as Saddam. Was it because of those treasonous remarks criticizing the Decider (which means aiding the terrorists)? Was it because he called Dick Cheney "pugnacious"? Did he have to use such a big word? Anyway, this just proves that even former presidents aren't above the law. The Invisible Hand of Justice decides our fate, and the same hand that snapped the neck of the Iraqi dictator may whisper to a president, "It's time." God bless us all!

WomanHonorThyself said...

ah courageously spoken Jon!
happy NEW YEAR from ole rainy NY!

Anonymous said...

I wish you the best New Year that will bring you health, happiness, success, and all that is good in 2007.

James Higham said...

Having read this, it only gave me confirmation of what I knew but didn't have the evidence to back up. He was not a good man.

liquiddaddy said...

I never liked Gerald Ford. He had a shifty look and big hammy fingers. He cheated at golf, and smelled like old socks.

I feel liberated that I could get this of my chest.

Thank you.

Tommie Closson said...

Speaking as a Freemason, I was a little sad that Ford's people did not permit him a Masonic Funeral.

Anonymous said...

"A little sad," tommie? For a 33rd Degree Scottish Rite Freemason to be buried without the Masonic rites is a DISGRACE, unless he really truly didn't want it, which I find impossible to believe. Either someone in his family expressly ignored his wishes, or someone in the government pressured them to do so. Either way, I think it's a disgrace.

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