Vice-President Gerald R. Ford succeeded to the Presidency upon the forced resignation of Richard Nixon in the wake of the horrendous Watergate Scandal on this day, August 9, forty years ago, in 1974. Ford, who had been Minority Leader in the House of Representatives for years when Nixon nominated him to take the place of Vice-President Spiro Agnew, who also had resigned from office in an unrelated bribery scandal, was a relative unknown on the national scale when Nixon threw him into the limelight. By the time of Nixon’s resignation, the country was so sick of the ravages and ups and downs of the Watergate Scandal, that it was painfully hungering for a change, for someone who would bring them hope and reaffirm their lost dignity and self-esteem as a People.
Gerald Ford seemed to fit the bill to the “T.” He immediately brought calm to the nation with the opening words of his short Inaugural Address on the White House Lawn: “Ladies and Gentlemen, America’s great national nightmare is over.” And with those targeted, gentle nine well-chosen words, President Gerald Ford became the great national healer of which the nation was in such desperate need. There was a very unique, almost ecumenical quality to Ford’s short Inaugural address on that day forty years ago. For the brief few minutes of that address, matters of political party and divisiveness went completely to the wayside. The nation was nearly in an irreversible coma of hopelessness, resignation and despair when Ford spoke those words and he awakened the country into a quiet, passionate new dawning of radiance. Suddenly Americans could feel the sun on their shoulders once again and the massaging sunlight was calming and reassuring.
Shortly after becoming President, Ford pardoned Nixon for any and all offenses which he “may have committed” while President prior to resigning from the Presidency. The pardon brought forth a great deal of controversy and accusations from some on the Left that Ford had a made a deal with Nixon to pardon him before Nixon appointed him Vice-President. This commentator totally disagrees with such accusations and for one good reason: Yes, Ford did make a deal, but it was not with Richard Nixon. Ford was way too much of a dreamer, a patriot and a globalist to make a deal with one man at country’s expense. It is this commentator’s belief that the deal that Ford made was with the American People: to be honest, to be passionate, to compromise, to listen, and to seek a solution to problems that was fair and equitable for all concerned parties. There was one more deal that Ford made with the American People: to get the People’s business done. Ford believed that if he had not pardoned Nixon when he did, that the Watergate Scandal, the endless hearings and investigations would have totally paralyzed the government and that the People’s business would not have been completed. Those, most likely, are the “deals” that Ford made and they were with the American People, not Richard Nixon.
During Ford’s Presidency, his wife Betty was struck with breast cancer. Ford stuck by her through thick and thin during this time. It was awe inspiring to see this man cater to his wife’s needs and speak so kindly of her, reading letters of support for Betty from American citizens and thanking people for their kind words. Ford’s loving and loyal support of his wife was in sharp contrast to the total lack of support for one’s wife from later Presidential candidates.
Ford also was the target of two assassination attempts by two women in California in September 1975, the first by a Charles Manson follower who went by the name Lynette, “Squeaky” Fromme in Sacramento. The second attempt was a couple of weeks later by a mentally deranged woman obsessed with newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst by the name of Sarah Jane Moore in San Francisco. Fromme was not able to fire her gun because she was prevented from doing so by a Secret Service agent. Moore was able to fire one shot and she was stopped by a gay male onlooker who Ford later thanked.
Ford was opposed in the Republican primaries by former Governor Ronald Reagan in 1976. Reagan almost beat Ford and Ford went on to run against Democratic Party candidate Jimmy Carter. Carter won and then lost his own re-election bid four years later. What happened next was truly compelling and remarkable: Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter became the best of friends and remained such until Ford’s death in 2006. This was the first time that two Presidential foes had become such good friends since the friendships of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. It truly was remarkable to see this and it spoke well of the character of both men.
People like Gerald Ford are very far and few between. We should all feel so fortunate to have had him for the short time we did, and to have been refreshed by the gentle morning mist that he brought to a nation desperately thirsting for relief from the fiery ravages of Watergate.