As Alie and I drove to the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, we remarked that Jerry Ford was an amazing person unlike any other politician who reach the highest levels of government.
Except for of a few years in New Jersey, we were in Washington, D.C. from 1964 until 1995. We never had prominent or significant positions, but our jobs kept us unusually aware of both policy issues and political personalities, and we “rubbed shoulders” with more than a few prominent people.
Alie began working as a secretary in a Congressional office while I was in Vietnam. She remembers Ford taking the time to greet her when he popped into the office. She remembers picking up the phone to hear, “This is Jerry. Is John available?”
Ford was never elected Vice President or President. He was appointed Vice President by President Nixon when Spiro Agnew resigned. Ford then became President when Nixon resigned. When he became President, he reminded the people he “was a Ford, not a Lincoln” referring to the automobile designed for the masses, not the luxury car.
We were upset when the press described him as bumbling and awkward and photographers caught him in the sort of awkward stumble we all experience at times. We knew he was an outstanding athlete who had been offered the opportunity to play football for both the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions.
We were upset when the press praised his 1976 opponent Jimmy Carter for character and honesty while lambasting Ford for policies that were the direct result a personal integrity that prevented him from taking the easy way out.
Urban liberal politicians and most of the press interpret “traditional American values” to be code words for bigotry.
The traditional American values Ford believed in were hard work, integrity, service to others, and mental and physical courage.
Gerald Ford through his actions showed that the derogatory view of the phrase is wrong.
“Confirmation bias” is the tendency we all have to prefer to read and hear things that confirm beliefs we already hold. Obviously a museum dedicated to a former President is going to stress the best parts of that person’s personality and achievements. The Ford museum does that. It stresses his humble beginnings, his hard work, his respect for the truth, his willingness to consider the opinions of others, and above all his refusal to compromise what he believed to be right even when it harmed him politically.
But we knew that.
Date of our visit: 20 Oct 21
Click on photos to enlarge.
Gerald Ford maintained a lifelong friendship with Willis Ward, an African American football player who became a judge. Ford stood up for Ward when Michigan played Georgia Tech in 1934. In another game, Ward said that when an opposing player made a disparaging remark about him, Ford gave the guy a block “that took him out of the game.” As President, Ford imposed sanctions on the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Ford was lambasted when he signed the Helsinki Accords with the Soviet Union. Historians now recognize it for bringing human rights to the forefront of discussions and helping to end the domination of the Soviet Union in Eastern Europe.
“Few will dispute that the cold war could not have been won had not Gerald R. Ford emerged at a tragic period to restore equilibrium to America and confidence in its triumphs.” Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger
Many historians believe Ford’s pardon of Nixon cost him the 1976 election.
When Senator Ted Kennedy presented Ford Ford with the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage award he said of his [Kennedy’s] opposition to the Nixon pardon “I was wrong.”
“At the time of Watergate, [God] gave us Gerald R. Ford – the right man at the right time who was able to put our nation back together.” Former Speaker of the House, Democrat Thomas [Tip] O’Neill.
“The truth has begun to dawn on the American people that Gerald Ford was the kind of President Americans always wanted – and didn’t know they had.” David Broder, Journalist in the Washington Post.
“You couldn’t really dislike Gerry Ford. Straight arrow. Lack of pretension. Down to earth Midwestern values.” Former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and co-Chair of the 9-11 Commission.
“[Father] and mother had three rules: tell the truth, work hard, and come to dinner on time – and woe to any of us who violated those rules.” Gerald R. Ford