Former President Gerald R. Ford, who declared "Our long national nightmare is over" as he replaced Richard Nixon but may have doomed his own chances of election by pardoning his disgraced predecessor, has died. He was 93.
The nation's 38th president, and the only one not elected to the office or the vice presidency, died at his desert home at 6:45 p.m. Tuesday.
The exact cause of death hasn't been made public as of yet.
I will confess that the 1976 election was the closest I ever came to voting for a Republican for president. I didn't have a strong opinion about either
Vice President Ford or his opponent, Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter. Yes, I had been furious when Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. And yes, I had been startled at Ford's famous "Poland gaffe," in which Ford declared "There is no Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe" during a debate with Carter.
But after Nixon, Mr. Ford had seemed as sincere and un-machiavellian as a puppy. After Nixon, it was a relief to have a president whose worst flaw was that he tripped a lot. And although Mr. Ford's brief tenure in office seemed unremarkable, "unremarkable" was a great relief after Vietnam and Watergate. Although I voted for Carter it wouldn't have broken my heart had Mr. Ford won.
On the other hand ...
Gerald Ford did not replace Henry Kissinger as his Secretary of State. There are allegations that Kissinger and Ford were complicit in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Timorese at the hands of General Suharto. And it was Gerald Ford who appointed George H.W. Bush to be Director of the
FBI CIA, Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense, and Dick Cheney as his Chief of Staff. I expect there will be some discussion of these acts in the next few days.
This might be a good time to re-evaluate the pardon of Nixon, because pardons of another former president and vice president may become a big issue in the next administration. In my life I've gone from being furious to thinking it was best for the nation and then changing my mind again. We need to look carefully at the long-term results of the pardon. How much of that terrible era went unexamined because of Nixon's pardon? And did it matter?
But Gerald Ford was not, I think, a man who put schemes and party politics ahead of his country. He and his family were were a soothing balm of honesty and wholesomeness at a time the nation desperately needed honesty and wholesomeness. On Inauguration Day 1977, President Carter began his speech: "For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land."
And that's what I choose to remember now.