Gerald Ford, the 38th and only unelected president in American history, died yesterday at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif at age 93. The defining moment of Ford’s short time in the White House was pardoning Richard Nixon, from whom he inherited the presidency after Watergate.
He later wrote in his autobiography, “I simply was not convinced that the country wanted to see an ex-president behind bars. We are not a vengeful people; forgiveness is one of the roots of the American tradition. And Nixon, in my opinion, had already suffered enormously.”
The pardon hurt his bid for re-election, and he knew it. He was defeated by Jimmy Carter in his bid for reelection. “It could easily cost me the next election if I run again,” he said. “But damn it, I don't need the polls to tell me whether I'm right or wrong.” I think few politicians keep that attitude about polls today.
"An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation's history,” said former President Jimmy Carter. “He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation.”
We might also remember Ford for his personal actions. In 1978, Ford and his children staged an intervention to persuade his wife, Betty, to seek treatment for abuse of medication and alcohol. The successful treatment led to founding the Betty Ford Center.
Undoubtedly, Ford will be recognized as one of the weakest presidents in American history – not all by his own faults. The Nixon administration’s abuse of power resulted in weakening presidential authority and empowering Congress, nearly reducing Ford to only symbolic command.
With the creation of the Patriot Act, Homeland Security and their offspring, we’ve tipped the scale back to a dominant president and weak Congress. War is forevermore omnipresent and can no longer be an excuse to skip the checks and balances this nation was founded upon. We should be reminded that, like Nixon, empowered presidents can be unethical and exploit their jurisdiction beyond the interest of the American people they serve. Should a president again overstep his or her authority and compromise American values, I hope that we can once again be restored by someone with the grace and dignity of Gerald Ford.