Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ford: the accidental president

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE, Associated Press Writer

Gerald R. Ford was a man of limited ambition who, through bizarre circumstances never before experienced by the country, achieved an office that others win through the greatest determination and calculation. The nation's 38th president, Ford wanted only to become speaker of the House. History had another place for him.

Ford was comfortable in the House, representing a Michigan congressional district for 25 years, rising to Republican leader and working toward his dream of one day running the chamber, when President Nixon called.

He needed a new vice president; scandal had chased Spiro Agnew from the office.

Ford wasn't Nixon's first choice, but the president agreed that the amiable Republican would be the easiest to win confirmation by both houses of Congress. So it went, and Ford became vice president in December 1973.

Yet eight months later, the scenario got even stranger.

The scandal of Watergate drove Nixon to become the only president to resign.

Ford, who died Tuesday at 93 at his home in the California desert, again was left to fill a void.

And so the man who did not covet the presidency, who never had sought national office and who wanted only to become the "head honcho" of the House, became president by chance — unlike many since who have devoted huge amounts of time and money in pursuit of the Oval Office.

"I have not campaigned either for the presidency or the vice presidency," Ford told the nation in his inaugural address on Aug. 9, 1974. "I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it."

Charles O. Jones, a political scholar at the Brookings Institution, said Ford "truly was an accidental president and he ought to be judged that way." Ford, he said, had the least political capital of almost any president because he wasn't elected.

"He had to come in entirely depending upon the difference of himself and Nixon," Jones said Wednesday.

What little capital Ford did have was quickly spent when, just a month after taking office, he granted Nixon a federal pardon for all crimes committed as president — further angering the country.

"It wasn't handled well," Erwin Hargrove, who taught political science at Vanderbilt University, said Wednesday. "He could have prepared the path for a pardon. He did it too abruptly."

Many believe the pardon contributed to Ford's loss to Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1976.

By then, Ford had come to enjoy being president. He once told Congress he would not run for a full term in 1976 even if he succeeded Nixon, but changed his mind within weeks of taking the oath of office.

"The Oval Office is large, comfortable and inspiring," Ford wrote in "A Time To Heal," his autobiography. "I knew there were many far-reaching things that I as president could do, but I never sat in the chair behind my desk and said, 'I'm a powerful man. I can press a button or pull a switch and such and such will happen.'"

He occupied the White House for 895 days. During that time, the Vietnam War ended and Ford inked a pivotal arms control treaty with the Soviet Union, regarded as a major foreign policy achievement on his watch. But it was not to last. Years later, Carter withdrew the pact from Senate consideration after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Ford promised to compromise and cooperate with his former colleagues in Congress, but relations between them were not always smooth. He vetoed 66 bills, and Congress overrode him on 12 of those.

There also were two attempts to assassinate him in September 1975.

His lack of stature as president was evident a year later during the presidential campaign, when he survived an intra-party challenge from Ronald Reagan, who was more conservative than Ford, only to lose to Carter.

On his first day in office, Ford made his own breakfast. He spent his first night as president at his ranch-style home in Alexandria, Va., taking the unusual step of directing the motorcade to obey red lights along the way.

But the perks of White House living grew on Ford once he finally moved in.

"What I hadn't expected were the little touches that so often brightened my day," he wrote in the autobiography. "The crew of Air Force One quickly discovered that I love strawberries. So when I flew somewhere, they usually had a bowl for me. They knew that I like to smoke a pipe, and they made sure the tobacco tin was always full."

Ford got a taste of national politics at Yale University, where he studied law and worked as a volunteer in Wendell L. Willkie's 1940 Republican presidential campaign. After service in the Navy in the Pacific during World War II, he returned to Grand Rapids, Mich., aspiring to do little more than play "lots of golf," enjoy life and build his law practice.

But his stepfather was the local Republican chairman, and then-Michigan Sen. Arthur H. Vandenberg was looking for a fresh young internationalist to replace the area's isolationist congressman.

Ford beat Rep. Bartel Jonkman by a 2-to-1 margin in the Republican primary and went on to win the general election in 1948 with more than 60 percent of the vote, a feat he would repeat 12 more times.

Ford rose through the House leadership ranks, becoming the minority leader. And he worked hard to turn it into a majority, and himself into House speaker. Eventually, he realized his dream would not come true — Democrats would control the House through 1995 — and he promised to run again in 1974 and retire two years later.

Then history intervened.

Gerald Ford Remembered for His 'Calm and Steady' Hand

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

WASHINGTON — Flags throughout the country were flying at half mast Wednesday in tribute to Gerald R. Ford, the 38th president of the United States, who died Tuesday at the age of 93.

Tributes poured forward for Ford, who led America out of the tumultuous post-Watergate period with dignity and respect.

President Ford's casket will begin public repose at 4:20 p.m. at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, Calif., on Friday after special services for family and friends. Ford's body will leave St. Margaret's for Washington, D.C., on Saturday morning and will be escorted via motorcade to the Capitol.

A state funeral will be held in the Capitol Rotunda at 7 a.m. ET on Saturday. Ford's body will lie in state in the Rotunda until Tuesday morning when it will be moved to the door of the Senate at 8:30 a.m. After a funeral service at Washington National Cathedral, the casket will be transported to the Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich., where the body will lie in public repose overnight.

Following a 2 p.m. funeral services Wednesday at Grace Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Ford will be interred on a hillside north of the museum.

All events related to Ford's funeral in Washington would be finished before Jan. 4, which is the opening day of the 110th Congress.

Ford's collegial character and unassuming style in the White House are expected to be reflected in his presidential funeral arrangements.

Saying the United States will be grateful forever, President Bush on Wednesday bade farewell to Ford, who died at 6:45 p.m. EST at his home in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

"President Ford lived 93 years and his life was a blessing to America," Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. "President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character."

Bush, who will attend Ford's funeral, said the man who took over the top job after the resignation of President Richard Nixon led with honorable conduct and a sense of duty in a time of post-Watergate turmoil.

"On Aug. 9, 1974, he stepped into the presidency without ever having sought the office. He assumed power in a period of great division and turmoil. For a nation that needed healing and for an office that needed a calm and steady hand, Gerald Ford came along when we needed him most," Bush said.

"Gerald Ford brought Americans together during a difficult chapter in our history with strength, integrity, and humility," President Bill Clinton said in a statement. "All Americans should be grateful for his life of service; he served our nation well. To his great credit, he was the same hard-working, down-to-earth person the day he left the White House as he was when he first entered Congress almost 30 years earlier."

The Ford Museum lobby will be open 24 hours a day until further notice, and the museum's other areas, including all exhibit galleries and the gift store, will be closed during this period. Ford likely will finally be laid to rest on the presidential grounds at the museum.

On the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan, the Ford Library lobby will be open for visitors for approximately seven days beginning Thursday. The library's research room will be closed during this period.

The New York Stock Exchange will close in observance of Ford’s death, which has long been tradition, most likely on the day of his funeral.

Although Ford had moved to California after leaving the White House, his ties to his native Michigan remained strong, and in his boyhood home of Grand Rapids a steady stream of people lit candles, draped flags and placed flowers Wednesday at a makeshift shrine outside the Gerald R. Ford Museum. The museum opened condolence books for visitors to sign in the vestibule.

"The country was in scandal and war and he used the opportunity to heal the country and become one of the most important people in history," Joseph B. Niewiek, 31, a used car lot owner from Grand Rapids, said as he lit a candle at the museum.

Ford's lying in state at the Capitol Rotunda will take an act of Congress. Republican leaders could come to Washington to seek unanimous consent from empty chambers if the family wants Ford to lie in state.

Ford's chief of staff called Bush Chief of Staff Josh Bolten at 10:25 p.m. EST. The president called Ford's widow, Betty Ford, to express his condolences just after midnight.

'Outstanding Statesman'

Other notables also expressed condolences for the death of the president who served in the aftermath of Watergate and was known as a healer for a nation suffering after the Vietnam War and political scandal that forced Nixon's resignation.

"I was proud to know President Ford and to have served in the White House as his chief of staff," Vice President Dick Cheney said. "He was a dear friend and mentor to me until this very day. I feel a great sense of loss at his passing, and Lynne and our daughters join me in offering heartfelt sympathy to Betty Ford and her entire family."

Ford was "one of the most admirable public servants and human beings I have ever known," said former President Jimmy Carter, who defeated Ford in 1976.

"An outstanding statesman, he wisely chose the path of healing during a deeply divisive time in our nation's history," Carter said. "He frequently rose above politics by emphasizing the need for bipartisanship and seeking common ground on issues critical to our nation. I will always cherish the personal friendship we shared."

"Ronnie and I always considered him a dear friend and close political ally," said former first lady Nancy Reagan.

"His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast, and even long after he left the presidency he made it a point to speak out on issues important to us all. ... I know the days ahead will be very difficult for Betty and my love and deepest sympathy go out to her and the entire Ford family."

"Gerald Ford was a man of modesty, decency and national healing. Although he never aspired to America's highest office, once there he renewed our faith in our nation's system of government. He also earned our affection and respect," added Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the incoming Senate minority leader.

"Gerald Ford and I came from different sides of the aisle," said Sen. John Dingell, D-Mich., "but we forged a wonderful friendship as we served Michigan together in the House of Representatives.

"When his nation called on him to serve this country in the most difficult of times, he rose up and held the country together. It will certainly be his legacy," said Dingell, who will lead the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the 110th Congress.

"President Ford made Michigan proud as he led our nation through one of the most challenging times in our history. Our prayers go out to his family," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.

Incoming House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Ford provided "the steady leadership and optimism that was his signature" and said he displayed "fair and reliable leadership" during his service in the House.

"He recognized that however much we may disagree on political questions, we serve all of the people of the nation in a great institution: the House of Representatives," she said.

Painful Pardon

Though often remembered as clumsy, especially after the famous trip down the staircase out of Air Force One, Ford was one of the most athletic presidents. He was a star on the University of Michigan football team and rejected an offer to join the National Football League in order to attend law school.

"He was the best athlete that has ever been in the White House, at least in modern times," said former ABC news director Hal Bruno, who added that Ford got a "bum rap" as a klutz.

Several people said Ford will be known as a very honest and good man who did what he thought was right and didn't bow to political pressure despite his decision to pardon Nixon for crimes related to the Watergate scandal.

"There are just some people who are what they appear to be," said Doug Bailey, one of Ford's political media consultants, who added that Ford's earthy demeanor disarmed people suspicious of him after Nixon had let down so many.

"He demonstrated a completely different kind of presidency" than Nixon, Bailey said. "He was a very, very down-to-Earth guy."

Ford himself said he was frequently misunderstood regarding his decision to pardon Nixon, who was the only president to resign from the post.

"If I had not granted a pardon, Mr. Nixon would have been indicted and convicted and there would have been at appeal and there would have been a three- or four-year period ... that issue would be the headline," Ford said in an interview with FOX News a few years ago.

"We had to get that off the front page. The only way to do it was to make a decisive mood, grant pardons, and get on with the business of the country," he continued. "At the time, the public did not generally understand the reasons for the pardon. Time has convinced most people, well over a majority."

Ed Nixon, the former president's brother, told FOX News on Wednesday that it took courage for Ford to do what he did, although that may not have been the only thing that cost him the presidency.

"He's a great man and we really, really miss his honorable life — a wonderful person," Nixon said of Ford.

I was 8 years old when President Ford took over as the US President. What I remember most was each Saturday Night, SNL Chevy Chase would always make fun of him and I usually laughed at it.

Later while studying his history, I grew a deep respect for this man who helped a nation unite after the debacle of "Water-Gate"

My Father always liked President Ford and when I was able to secure a Presidential Tie-Clip with his signature, for his Christmas present one year. He always liked that clip, so much that we buried it him with wearing it on his favorite tie.

Rest well now President Ford. A grateful nation says. "Thank You"

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