I am not a Republican, and I donít think I ever will be. However, I do have a favorite modern Republican president, and his name is Gerald R. Ford. My admiration for Ford can be traced all the way back to my first political memory, Election Night 1972, back in the days when I was the most Republican second grader you could ever hope to meet.
Although I was only seven years old at the time, I liked President Richard Nixon very much. The reason for this was simple: we shared a first name. That was the extent of my political awareness; if a politician shared my name, I thought he was OK. The only thing I remember about that election night 28 years ago is that I went to bed worrying that Nixon wouldnít beat his opponent, Democrat George McGovern. I guess I just wasnít familiar with the term, "landslide," back in those days. Nixon carried 49 states.
A few years later, the Watergate scandal caused Nixonís administration to unravel. Although I had no idea what "Watergate" was, I remember that it seemed like a very big deal and that the hearings were on television all the time. Finally, on August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first president to resign from office. Gerald Ford, who had become vice president when Sprio Agnew resigned in December of í73, suddenly became president of the United States. Again, I vaguely remember watching Nixon step on Air Force 1 to fly home to California for the last time. Then I went out to ride my bike.
When Ford became president, he told Americans, "our long national nightmare is over," but shortly thereafter he upset millions of people by giving Richard Nixon a complete pardon. This would haunt him for the rest of his administration and was probably one of the reasons Ford found himself in an uphill battle to keep Jimmy Carter out of the White House in the 1976 campaign.
I was in sixth grade as Ford and Carter were battling it out. Our class decided to have a mock election, and I was chosen to be Gerald Ford. Nancy Cawley received the nod to be Jimmy Carter. Even before this campaign came up, I think Nancy and I had some kind adversarial relationship, but I canít remember why. Whatever the problem was, it got worse once Nancy/Jimmy and Rich/Gerald were running against each other.
We each had to give speeches to the class. I donít remember what Nancy/Jimmy said, but Iím sure I thought it was stupid and worthless, in that particular way that only sixth grade boys can think something stupid and worthless. I do know that I put my speech together from Ford quotes I found in U.S. News and World Report. This resulted in me using the word "platitude" in my speech, even though I wasnít exactly clear what the word meant.
As all of this was going on, my mom and sister and I took a train up to Philadelphia to see Jimmy Carter. He appeared on a street corner downtown, and thousands of people showed up to see him. By this time his grassroots campaign had gained a serious amount of momentum, and it was very exciting to see him, but my mind was unchanged. I was a Ford man all the way.
Eventually, the day of the mock election came, and Nancy/Jimmy crushed Rich/Gerald. For months afterward, I grumbled about it being "just a stupid popularity contest anyway," in exactly the same way I would grumble a few years later each time I lost a class officer election (which was every time I ran for office) in high school. At some point during my extended loserís pout, I wrote a letter to the real Gerald Ford who, of course, had also lost the election to the real Jimmy Carter. I forget what I told him, but I suppose it was just that I liked him and wished him the best.
Right around the time of Carterís inauguration in January 1977, I received a package from the White House. It contained a note, thanking me for taking the time to write, a souvenir booklet on the Ford Family and the White House, and a color photo of Gerald Ford. I was thrilled and quickly found a place of honor for the photo on my bedroom wall.
Today, that very same photo of President Ford is hanging in my office at work. I dug it out of my files and brought it to work this week, since the Republican National Convention was being held in Philadelphia. I hung the photo up with the caption, "My Favorite Republican," underneath it. I was afraid that people would think I was trying to be funny or "ironic," but that wasnít my intention at all.
It seems to me that Gerald Ford is worthy of our respect because, in addition to his years of public service prior to entering the White House, he did his best to hold our country together during a very tough time in its history. Even Nixonís pardon, which probably seemed inexcusable to many people at the time, seemed to help this countryís healing process, since putting Nixon on trial would have probably kept the whole Watergate mess fresh in peopleís minds for years. Thatís a point that will be argued for years, but I think Ford just wanted to end the "nightmare" once and for all.
I also admire the fact that Ford and his former adversary, Jimmy Carter (who Iíve come to admire as a great ex-president, although his term in office was not very good), have become good friends in the years since their presidencies. I think it speaks very well of both men that theyíve seen fit to get beyond political differences and to form a friendship as senior statesmen.
As you probably know, Gerald Ford suffered a minor stroke while attending the convention this week, just hours after being honored along with Ronald Reagan and George Bush, the other two living Republican former presidents. Fordís doctor says he should make a full recovery, and I am happy to hear that. If youíre reading this, Mr. President, get well soon, and thank you. Even though the Republican convention is over, I think I will keep your picture in my office for a while.
(Please feel free to email to others who may be interested or to print a hard copy for them but remember: The Dichotomy of the Dog is copyright 2000 by Rich Wilhelm. If you plan on making a bazillion dollars from this piece of writing, please let me know so I can sue you or something.)