I spent a sizable chunk of last week witnessing the spectacle of former United States President Gerald R. Ford’s funeral and couldn’t help but be appalled by the talking heads on television and the obituary writers who failed to honestly portray Ford’s presidency.
Granted, presidential funerals have become the stuff of Cecil B. DeMille productions since the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, but Eisenhower was a legitimate national hero before he became president and Kennedy was murdered while in office. I suspect Eisenhower would have been accorded a state funeral regardless of whether or not he had won the White House.
Ford, as a former president, rightly received his due as a leader of the Free World, but a lot of people forgot that he wasn’t there by design or the will of the people.
“The Accidental President” came to the vice presidency as part of a last ditch effort by President Richard Nixon to salvage his own administration in the wake of the Watergate Scandal. Nixon thought that then-Congressman Ford (GOP Minority Leader) would be palatable to Congress after Spiro Agnew was forced to hit the bricks following his bribery problems.
Nixon chose Ford because Ford was a nice guy, a career congressman, and a loyal Party man who might smooth things over with an increasingly impatient legislative branch.
During Ford’s memorial, much was made of the former president’s preemptive pardon of his predecessor Nixon. These pieties were concerned primarily with how Ford “healed the nation” and had brought closure to “our long national nightmare.”
I realize those sentiments made for great television, but I would point out that this did absolutely nothing for history.
The announcers made frequent reference to the census data that showed 40 percent of the current crop of Americans had not yet been born at the time of Ford’s White House.
These folks can be lumped together with the rest of Americans who don’t know what happened (or don’t care) with Watergate and why Ford did what he did for an outright criminal and traitor to his nation.
Personally, I’ve always thought Ford pardoned Nixon because he feared Nixon would literally die of shame and in Ford’s mind, the pardon was the decent thing to do.
I never heard or read any commentators mention the Mayaguez incident (look it up). I never heard anyone talk about Ford’s support and eventual betrayal of the Iraqi Kurds against Saddam Hussein (look that up, too).
I never heard anything about Ford’s endorsement of Indonesia’s General Suharto’s invasion of East Timor and massacre of 25 percent of its population (while you’re at it, look that up as well).
And I never heard anybody talk about Ford’s failure to see that the Helsinki Accords made the U.S.A. the de facto friend of the burgeoning political dissident movement in Eastern Europe during the Cold War or his blow-off of Aleksander Solzhenitsyn (it’s in the library).
I never heard anything about Pinochet (try Wikipedia if you don’t want to leave your house).
Actually, I put those last two more on Kissinger’s shoulders … boy, is he gonna have a lot to answer for when he gets off the bus.
All that in less than three years.
So, I wasn’t bugged by most of the accolades accorded to Ford during his funerals because I expect that from all funerals. Americans like to remember the best qualities about the deceased, especially deceased presidents.
However, this doesn’t mean that we have to insist upon an ignorance of history and how that history affects our country on a day-to-day basis.
It’s affecting us now and the sad truth is that most Americans haven’t a clue.