Farewell to our greatest president
December 28, 2006
Adieu, Gerald Ford! It has always been my view that he was America's greatest president. Transferring the Hippocratic injunction from the medical to the political realm, he did the least possible harm. Under Ford's tranquil hand the nation relaxed after the hectic fevers of the Nixon years. He finally pulled the United States out of Vietnam.
As a visit to the Ford Presidential Library discloses, the largest military adventure available for display was the foolish U.S. response to the capture of the U.S. container ship Mayaguez by the Khmer Rouge on May 12, 1975. As imperial adventures go, and next to the vast graveyards across the planet left by Ford's predecessors and successors, it was small potatoes.
Ford was surrounded by bellicose advisors such as his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller; his chief of staff, and later secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, and his presidential assistant, Dick Cheney. The fact that this rabid crew was only able to persuade Ford to give the green light for Indonesia's invasion of East Timor -- an appalling decision to be sure -- is tribute to Ford's pacific instincts and deft personnel management. Unlike George W. Bush, Ford was of humane temper and could mostly hold in check his bloodthirsty counselors.
Kissinger was part of the furniture when Ford took over, after Nixon's resignation on August 8, 1974. With latitude to choose, Ford made sensible selections, none more fruitful than his attorney general, Edward Levy, who in turn prompted Ford to nominate John Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he has long distinguished himself and dignified Ford's choice by being the most humane and progressive justice.
As a percentage of the federal budget, social spending crested in the Ford years. Never should it be forgotten that Jimmy Carter campaigned against Ford as the prophet of neo-liberalism, precursor of the Democratic Leadership Council, touting "zero-based budgeting."
If Ford had beaten back Carter's challenge in 1976, the neo-con crusades of the mid- to late Seventies would have been blunted by the mere fact of a Republican occupying the White House. Reagan, most likely, would have returned to his slumbers in California after his abortive challenge to Ford for the nomination in Kansas in 1976.
Instead of a weak southern Democratic conservative in agreement to almost every predation by the military industrial complex, we would have had a Midwestern Republican, thus a politician far less vulnerable to the promoters of the New Cold War.
Would Ford have rushed to fund the Contras and order their training by Argentinean torturers? Would he have sent the CIA on its most costly covert mission, the $3.5 billion intervention in Afghanistan? The nation would have been spared the disastrous counsels of Carter's foreign policy advisor, Zbigniev Brzezinski.
Those who may challenge this assessment of Ford's imperial instincts should listen to the commentators on CNN belaboring the scarce-cold commander-in-chief for timidity and lack of zeal in prosecuting the Cold War. By his enemies shall we know him.
During Ford's all-too-brief tenure a mood of geniality was the rule. Even the attempted assassinations of the president by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Moore, in September 1975, had a slapdash, lighthearted timbre. The arts flourished, as is attested by Vicki Carr's frequent appearance in the photographic record of White House galas.
At the side of America's greatest president was America's most sympathetic First Lady, Betty, whose enduring memorial is the Betty Ford Clinic, homeport for beleaguered boozers. I send my sympathies to the former First Lady.
Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
COPYRIGHT 2006 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.
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