. . . Who helped us through an evil time

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Pat Buchanan

Ger­ald R. Ford was a good man who served his coun­try well in an evil time. When he took of­fice on Aug. 9, 1974, and de­clared, “Our long na­tional night­mare is over,” Mr. Ford did not fully ap­pre­ci­ate that those who had done the most to cre­ate the night­mare were still here. The es­tab­lish­ment that Pres­i­dent Nixon had hu­mil­i­ated in his 49state land­slide, hav­ing just ef­fected a coup d’etat, had crawled back into power.

That es­tab­lish­ment, which had hated Mr. Nixon since the Al­ger Hiss case and loathed Spiro Agnew for his wildly pop­u­lar at­tacks on the lib­eral press, em­braced “Jerry” Ford, and never more ea­gerly than when he el­e­vated one of their own, Nelson Rock­e­feller, to the vice pres­i­dency.

Au­gust 1974 was the happy hour of Amer­i­can lib­er­al­ism, when the press dis­cov­ered that, amaz­ingly, Jerry Ford ac­tu­ally toasted his own English muffins in his kitchen and but­tered them him­self, be­fore head­ing off to the White House. How won­der­ful it all was.

The toasted-muf­fin phase of the Ford pres­i­dency ended abruptly on the Sun­day morn­ing that Mr. Ford is­sued a full par­don to Mr. Nixon for any and all of­fenses com­mit­ted dur­ing his pres­i­dency.

Wash­ing­ton went berserk. Mr. Ford was sav­aged day af­ter day in the press, night af­ter night on the net­work news. His ap­proval rat­ing sank 40 points. The air was poi­sonous, with ac­cu­sa­tions of a “deal” by which Mr. Ford got the pres­i­dency in re­turn for Mr. Nixon get­ting the par­don.

In an ad­dress to Congress on Aug. 12, Mr. Ford had said, “I don’t want a hon­ey­moon with you, I want a good, long mar­riage.”

But a Congress that had been de­nied, by Mr. Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion, the plea­sure of im­peach­ing, con­vict­ing and ex­pelling him from the White House was in no mood for ro­mance. Nor was this city, which had just been robbed of a de­li­cious year-long pub­lic trial of the dis­graced for­mer pres­i­dent.

A House Ju­di­ciary Sub­com­mit­tee on Crim­i­nal Jus­tice di­rected Mr. Ford to ap­pear on Capi­tol Hill to ex­plain the cir­cum­stances of the par­don. Had any­thing fishy turned up, Congress would have tried to im­peach Mr. Ford, so ran­cid was the at­mos­phere in this city.

Partly be­cause of the par­don, the GOP suf­fered a loss of 48 House seats that Novem­ber. In Jan­uary 1975, a rad­i­cal Congress was sworn in, de­ter­mined to end all aid to our al­lies in South­east Asia, bring about their de­feat, then tear apart the CIA and FBI.

In April, Hanoi, with mas­sive Soviet aid, launched an in­va­sion of South Viet­nam. Mr. Ford went to Congress to beg for as­sis­tance to our em­bat­tled Saigon al­lies. His re­quest was re­buffed. Two Democrats walked out of the cham­ber.

Within weeks, South Viet­nam and Cam­bo­dia had fallen, and Pol Pot’s holo­caust had be­gun. By sum­mer, tens of thou­sands of Viet­namese had been ex­e­cuted, scores of thou­sands put into “re-ed­u­ca­tion camps,” and the first of hun­dreds of thou­sands had pushed off into the South China Sea, where many drowned and oth­ers met their fate at the hands of Thai pi­rates.

Next, Congress went to work on the CIA, with the Pike com­mit­tee and the Church com­mit­tee ex­pos­ing all the evil deeds the agency had done in the cause of try­ing to win the Cold War.

When Ford sug­gested that New York, the ci­tadel of lib­er­al­ism, might it­self be re­spon­si­ble for its own bank­ruptcy — by its cow­ardice in the face of out­ra­geous union de­mands — and it was not his duty to bail out the Big Ap­ple, he was at­tacked as cruel and un­car­ing.

“Ford to City: Drop Dead!” ran the head­line in the New York Daily News.

Where­upon Mr. Ford trooped to the res­cue of New York.

By now, how­ever, af­ter Viet­nam, Cam­bo­dia and Laos had fallen, and the Sovi­ets were on the move in Africa, con­ser­va­tives had had a bel­ly­ful of de­tente and its per­soni- fi­ca­tion, Sec­re­tary of State Henry Kissinger. The pres­ence of Mr. Rock­e­feller a heart­beat away and the nom­i­na­tion of the John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court did not help.

Ron­ald Rea­gan en­tered the pri­maries and al­most took the nom­i­na­tion. While he en­dorsed Mr. Ford, he de­clined to run with him. Yet Mr. Ford closed a 30point gap to 3 points against Jimmy Carter, and had he not de­clared East­ern Europe not un­der Soviet dom­i­na­tion in one of the Ford-Carter de­bates, he might have won an up­set to ri­val the 1948 come­back of Harry Tru­man. But it was not to be.

Mr. Ford was a non-ide­o­log­i­cal man in an ide­o­log­i­cal age, a nice man in nasty times. When he took the helm, Amer­ica was as di­vided as she had been since the Tru­manMcCarthy era. When he left in 1977, Amer­ica had had a uni­fy­ing Bi­cen­ten­nial of her Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence.

Though it was no fault of his own, Mr. Ford presided over the great­est strate­gic de­feat in U.S. his­tory since the loss of China un­der Harry Tru­man. And he had failed to win elec­tion in his own right.

Yet, he saw the coun­try through an evil time, and his de­cency showed through through­out. He was not a great pres­i­dent, but the right man at the right time, who paid an un­just price for hav­ing done the right thing.

Pat Buchanan is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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