The 93-year old Gerald Ford went into the hospital at least four times this year, so the death this week of our longest-living President didn’t surprise me. But his career has long interested me greatly. As our first person selected as Vice-President and then President under the 25th Amendment, rather than elected, the House minority leader didn’t much have a lot of political leverage.
The whole Ford Memoirs Behind the Nixon Pardon thing led to an interesting, and for Ford’s legacy, a rather sad court case. In HARPER & ROW, PUBLISHERS, INC. v. NATION ENTERPRISES, 471 U.S. 539 (1985), Time magazine had an exclusive right to excerpt from Ford’s memoirs. Nation magazine wrote a news story of 300-400 words about it. Normally, that wouldn’t be an issue (fair use), but since they focused on the Nixon pardon, which was the only thing that anyone really cared about, it led to the resulting lawsuit.
On one hand, I felt sorry for the man. Ford had two offers, from the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, to play professional football when he graduated from Michigan in 1935… Ford could have gone league. “I wish I could’ve played one year for either the Lions or the Packers…”. If he had, maybe he wouldn’t have been so easily painted as a klutz by the press and most notably by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live. (I read on AOL that Chase is now saying very nice things about Ford.)
On the other hand, he was responsible in large part for the success of two members of the GWB administration, one current and the other recent. He made a rising young administrator in the Nixon cabinet, Donald Rumsfeld, his chief of staff in 1974. In 1975, when Rumsfeld moved to the Pentagon to become the nation’s youngest secretary of defense, Ford appointed a still younger White House staffer, Dick Cheney, to succeed him. Had Gerald Ford been still alive, I might have called this piece, “I blame Gerald Ford”. But it’s still hard for me to speak ill of the dead.
At least he’ll be eligible to be on a coin in 2016.