12/26/2006

Honoring President Gerald Ford


Former President Gerald Ford has just passed away in the last few hours and I am inclined to share my thoughts on his contribution to this nation and to the office which he reluctantly assumed at an hour of national turmoil. His legacy is not among the most favorable of America's chief executives, and the pundits, even at the hour of his death, are quick to acknowledge this fact (I speak specifically of the reflections from Robert Novak on FoxNews). However, the circumstances surrounding his ascendancy to the nation's highest office were perilous in a way unexperienced since the assassination of President Lincoln following the Civil War. He was the first unelected Vice President in our nations history, as well as the first unelected President, which was unquestionably a heavy burden to bear for a man who quite obviously never aspired to that post. Chosen by President Richard Nixon to replace the disgraced outgoing Vice President Spiro Agnew because he was seen as a safe choice who posed no threat to the embattled President, but in the end he saved the disgraced former president form enduring the embarrassment of a prolonged legal battle when he issued a very controversial executive pardon to his predecessor. Despite never being elected to the executive mansion, he was able to spurn the primary challenge from future President Ronald Reagan in 1976, though eventually falling to Jimmy Carter in the hotly contested general election.

He was one of the only presidents that didn't receive much attention in the any of the US history classes I have taken, but anyone who is a student of politics recognizes the very important role he played in preserving the dignity of the most powerful office in all the world. There are several ways to interpret the impact of Gerald Ford's presidency on the future of the office, and I believe his most important legacy will be the precedent he set when he made the very controversial decision to pardon Richard Nixon, which undoubtedly hurt his own political fortunes at the time, but will forever remind future presidents that sometimes what is popular is not what is wise.

The nation has tonight lost one truly great man, and I am confident that history will judge his brief tenure, though less spectacular than some, to be one of the most courageous.
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