He had a quality sadly lacking in recent US presidents - he didn't want the job. As his party's leader in the lower house of Congress, his ambition was to be Speaker. But Spiro Agnew plea-bargained his way out of his veep gig, and Nixon picked Ford to replace him. Then Watergate took Nixon out of the picture. VoilĂ !

His brief tenure was uneventful (aside from nasty CIA activities and foreign-policy atrocities in which he stood idly by -- East Timor, anyone?); his occasional tendency towards physical clumsiness became the basis for a weekly lampoon on Saturday Night Live, in which The Prez was played by Chevy Chase. (Mr. Ford was, in fact, a former athlete, having played football at the University of Michigan). After winning a long, grueling 1976 nomination fight against former California governor Ronald Reagan (the standard-bearer for the ascendant New Right), he lost the general election to the former Georgia governor, Jimmy Carter.

Mr. Ford serves now on corporate boards and plays much golf. His wife founded the Betty Ford Clinic.

He's alive, but unconscious, like Gerald Ford.
Johnny Hinshaw (Stephen Stucker), Airplane

Gerald Rudolph Ford (1913 - 2006), 38th president of the United States of America, from 1974 to 1977. Known as the "accidental president," he replaced Richard Nixon's vice president Spiro Agnew, and then Nixon himself, becoming the first and only President who was not elected to the position.

Early Days

Leslie King, Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913. At the age of two, his parents divorced and his mother remarried. To accommodate, Leslie took the name of his stepfather: Gerald R. Ford. He grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, working odd jobs around town and earning a reputation as an All-American boy.

College

Upon graduation from high school, Ford (nicknamed "Jerry" by friends) attended the University of Michigan, where he studied economics and political science. He was, however, more noted at school for playing center for the school's two-time national championship football team, even being named team MVP in 1934.

Don't talk that way about Ford. He's doing damn well for a guy that was hit in the head playing football.
Archie Bunker, "All In The Family"

Early Career

After exiting college, Ford became an assistant football coach at Yale, where he also spent time as the boxing coach, while earning a law degree from the school in 1941. He was admitted to the Michigan bar in 1941 on his first try and practiced law in Grand Rapids for a year before joining the Navy.

Service Record

During World War II, Ford served as an aviation operations officer, including two years aboard the aircraft carrier USS Monterey in the Pacific Fleet (which weathered a typhoon that nearly killed Ford!) He was a quick learner, and was discharged as a lieutenant commander.

US Congress

After returning home and further developing his modestly successful law practice, Ford was contaced by Senator Arthur H. Vandenberg about running for the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1948, he defeated incumbent Bartel J. Jonkman in the primary and handily won the election, running on a platform of aggressive anti-Communism.

Marriage

In 1949, Ford married Elizabeth Bloomer, a former professional dancer and model.

They had four children: Michael Gerald, (b. March 14, 1950); John Gardner (b. March 16, 1952); Steven Meigs, b. (May 19, 1956); and Susan Elizabeth, b. (July 6, 1957).

Politics As Usual

Upon being elected chairman of the House Republican Conference in 1963, Ford attempted to reinstitute an older model of Republican leadership: abandoning McCarthyism and anti-Mafia politics, he attempted to push values and morals. In the same year, Lyndon Johnson named Ford to the Warren Commission, set up to investigate John F. Kennedy's murder. In 1965, Ford ousted Charles Halleck as the House Minority Leader in a hotly contested vote.

Ford's general policies in politics were unabashedly Republican: he opposed federal aid for education as well as health care, attempted to restrict minimum wage, voted down measures that provided loans and subsidies for farmers, and in general voted down any federal attempt to intervene with state politics (including, notoriously, fighting certain aspects of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.)

As Congressman, Ford was a constant supporter of defense funding and appropriations. He also supported spending for the United Nations and was instrumental in supporting the early foundations of what would later become the IMF.

One of Ford's most controversial activities was his unsuccessful attempt in 1970 to instigate impeachment proceedings against Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a liberal, on charges that included conflict of interest.

Vice Presidency

Two days after Spiro Agnew resigned on October 10, 1973, then-President Richard Nixon nominated Ford to succeed him under a provision of the 25th Amendment under the Constitution. After a thorough investigation, Ford was approved by both houses of Congress and sworn in as vice president on December 6.

The Republican party was sagging under the weight of the Watergate scandal, and the vice president, in hundreds of public appearances, sought to rally the party faithful. He expressed the belief that President Nixon was not involved in the Watergate cover-up. But the president, after being forced to release damaging evidence, resigned after it became apparent that he would be removed through the impeachment process. Ford was sworn in as president at noon on August 9, 1974, by Chief Justice Warren Burger in the East Room of the White House.

The Accidental Presidency

After the presidential pardon, Ford had great difficulty governing the nation. He vetoed 48 bills in his first 21 months in office, claiming they would prove too costly. He battled the Democratic-controlled Congress over tax cuts — "waffling" badly as he switched his position from being opposed to cuts and then agreeing to them. As the nation's oil prices skyrocketed, Ford seemed indecisive as to how to break U.S. dependence on imported oil especially from the Middle East. In foreign affairs, moreover, the Ford administration seemed helpless to end the final victory of communist forces in Vietnam. The entire nation watched in horror as the North Vietnamese seized all of South Vietnam, resulting in the evacuation by U.S. helicopters of U.S. personnel and other civilians from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.

On May 14, 1975, in a dramatic move, Ford ordered U.S. forces to retake the SS Mayaguez, an American merchant ship seized by Cambodian gunboats two days earlier in international waters. The vessel was recovered and all 39 crewmen saved. In the preparation and execution of the rescue, however, 41 Americans lost their lives.

On two separate trips to California in September 1975, Ford was the target of assassination attempts. Both of the assailants were women -- Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Jane Moore.

The butt of public jokes about his lack of coordination, ridiculed as part of the Watergate cover-up, and blamed for runaway inflation and the final loss of South Vietnam (although he came in near the heaviest points of both of these long-standing dilemmas), Ford nearly lost the Republican nomination to former governor Ronald Reagan of California in 1976. Moreover, Ford's own party’s platform repudiated many of his policies. It was clear that the nation's voters were looking for candidates from outside of Washington politics. The former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, nominated by the Democrats, beat Ford in the general election by a narrow margin in both the popular vote and the electoral college. Ford's campaign had been seriously hurt by Reagan's challenge and by Ford's own ineptitude as a campaigner. For example, he foolishly claimed in a televised debate with Carter that "there was no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe." That misstatement convinced many Americans that he was not up to the job.

After Presidency After his Presidency, Ford settled down to a quiet life of golf, serving as an executive on the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center Board of Directors, and helping his wife gain publicity for her various charitable causes (for more information, you may wish to read her biography.) He passed away on December 26, 2006, after a series of health issues. He was 93.

Publications By Mr. Ford:

  • Time To Heal: The Autobiography Of Gerald Ford
  • Humor And The Presidency
  • Portrait Of The Assassin (with John R. Stile)

Miscellaneous Information

Sources

  • Gerald R. Ford Library and Gerald R. Ford Museum - http://www.ford.utexas.edu/
  • Encyclopedia Americana: Gerald Ford - http://gi.grolier.com/presidents/ea/bios/38pford.html

"A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have"
Gerald Ford

Presidential Index
37 | 39

Gerald Ford got a pretty bum rap from a lot of people when he was President and things haven't got much better for him as the history books begin to be written. A lot of literature on the Cold War and American politics doesn't even give him much of a mention. Chapters typically skip from "The Nixon Presidency" straight to "The Carter Presidency".

There were certainly a lot of obstacles to Ford being very original or bold in his policies. He didn't have any electoral base outside the Fifth Congressional District of Michigan, and hence doubts could be raised about his mandate. Then there was the fact Watergate had just ended, and to restore the respectability of the Presidency Ford felt he had to sew the nation's fabric back together rather than ripping it further apart. This is why he called his autobiography A Time to Heal.

Then there were a few decisions he made that turned out to be unpopular, and ended his brief romance with the American people. At first just about everyone loved this straight-laced Congressman, who was seen a conciliator who would abandon Nixon's high-handed manner of dealing with the public and Congress. And indeed Ford did do this. Ford's tenure was uncorrupt and marked by an honesty toward the American people, often in the face of vitriolic abuse from journalists. The "nasty CIA activities" mentioned by pinguoin above did not take place during Ford's tenure, rather there was a Congressional and executive investigation of abuses under past Presidents.

Nevertheless, major events took place during Ford's tenure. South Vietnam fell to the Communists, bringing to a tragic end over a decade of American foreign policy. Ford reacted to the event with restraint, appealing to the Congress to supply aid to allow the Vietnamese to defend themselves. When none was forthcoming, he declared the war over so far as the United States was concerned and called for a debate over the future without recriminations. Most people in the United States wanted to forget the Vietnam War as quickly as possible, and most moved on.

His foreign policy in general was pragmatic, and he gave no dynamic new direction to the nation's international affairs. Here he most strongly continued the Nixon legacy, especially with Kissinger by his side. This was natural, as Nixon and Kissinger had crafted a hugely effective foreign policy. Ford continued to pursue a relaxation of tensions with the Soviet Union (detente) and tried to reach agreements on bilateral trade and arms control. He came under criticism from the neoconservative movement which was just coalescing around Commentary magazine, who wanted him to employ a 'muscular Wilsonianism'. Their call for an ideological renewal and a confrontational stand against the Soviet Union, which eventually ended the Cold War, would have been too divisive for the troubled domestic scene of the mid-1970s and would have to wait for Ronald Reagan.

In domestic policy, Ford shared the typical preoccupation of Republicans in the late twentieth century - cutting government spending and cutting government programs which he felt were unneccesary. Ford didn't throw rhetoric around quite so freely as Reagan, but he too believed that the Congress needed to control its spending and that masses of taxes and regulation were strangling America. However, Ford was faced with one of the most militant Congresses in history, newly emerged from Watergate victorious and baying for more blood. The mostly Democratic legislative attacked the CIA, saw Ford appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and tried to make foreign policy by legislation, or at least undercut the administration's efforts to make a coherent foreign policy.

That Ford managed to hold things together when faced with all this makes him worthy of praise. A brief look at his major decisions likewise does not give an unfavourable impression. Firstly, he pardoned Richard Nixon. This may sound like a terrible thing to do (many people at the time certainly thought so), but in reality there was little point continuing to hound Nixon, who was near death with phlebitis (he subsequently recovered). On top of that, it had become clear that it was impossible to get anything else done while the Nixon issue was still unresolved. Nixon was all the press wanted to know about and many politicians still devoted too much time to attacking or defending him. By pardoning him, Ford attracted a great deal of flak toward himself but allowed the Republic to move on.

Secondly, his foreign policy decisions were generally good. While the process of detente ticked on, Ford showed he was willing to defend American interests abroad. He successfully rescued the crew of the SS Mayaguez when they were kidnapped by Communist Cambodia, and he sent a stark warning to North Korea with Operation Paul Bunyan. He also tried to intervene to stop Soviet dominance of Angola, although eventually Congress put paid to his efforts. While detente as an idea was ultimately doomed, it was not a bad thing that it at least had been tried. Although he is sometimes blamed for Indonesia's invasion of East Timor, archival evidence does not suggest he was ever involved in any decision-making process on the issue. At most he knew of Indonesia's intention and did nothing to stop them - but the question of what exactly he could do has to be raised.

Eventually Ford lost the election to Jimmy Carter in 1976. He'd had a tough few years, with a coalition of neoconservatives, Vietnam War liberals and Cold War conservatives arranged against him. He managed to emerge from this adversity with his reputation mostly intact, even his political opponents admitting that he was a good man who had tried to do his best for the country. Most crucially of all, he had managed to oversee the passage of Watergate and the Vietnam War into the nation's history. That he weathered the extreme trauma of the mid-1970s and led the American Republic intact and vibrant into a better era so quickly perhaps suggests that his reputation is due to be restored.

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