Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gerald Ford remembered

Montana Headlines is provincial, perhaps parochial, in its focus. There is already a din of commentary on major national issues and on national politics from both right and left. Thus national issues and politics will generally be touched on only obliquely.

But the passing of former President Gerald R. Ford should be taken note of.

To most conservative Republicans who were politically informed and active at the time, Ford was a classic Rockefeller, country club Republican. He stood in the way of the Reagan revolution that all conservatives longed for, and during the hard-fought 1976 campaign, the more conservative Republicans saw of him and reflected on his actions and policy positions, the less they liked him.

He was also notable not only for being the only President never to be elected, but for being the only President never to win even a state-wide election.

In a time when Guiliani leads the Republican early polls and when people like Secretary of State Rice are talked about as potential Presidential material, it should be remembered that the ability to win a state-wide election is a small but key test of whether a candidate can build broad-based support. It also tests whether one can sustain a major election effort in a race that draws national attention, as many senatorial and gubernatorial races do.

All that aside, Ford gave the country a major gift in the pardon of President Nixon, sparing us all that further investigations and trials would have brought.

He also spoke the truth when he said that our Constitution works. Such a peaceful transfer of power to an unelected President is a gift of the rule of law that Americans have.

In a way, we are still living with the Ford legacy, since many of the key personnel that President Bush has leaned on for the last 6 years are veterans of the Ford administration -- most notably VP Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.

Those conservatives who remember the stark differences between Ford and Reagan that were highlighted in the 1976 primary campaign couldn't help but be edgy about the fact that while President Bush tried to assume the Reagan mantle (and in some ways succeeded where his father failed,) he drew his key advisers from the Ford administration rather than from "Reagan Republicans" and former Reagan aides.

It is hardly surprising to those same skeptical conservatives that it has precisely been those two aides who led President Bush into the most serious political debacle of his presidency, one from which he may not recover.

In the long run, those advisers may prove to have been right. In the short run, however, it is hard not to let oneself imagine what things might have been like had President Bush been truly Reaganesque -- having a strong military and working from a position of strength, but avoiding any kind of major foreign conflict.

The final words should, however, be sympathies to President Ford's family and gratitude for providing dedicated service to his country in one of its most difficult times.