Gerald Ford

Among historians, Ford has never made it into the hall of greatness but, over time, he did fulfill his own dream. For all his fumbles, especially those in the First Hundred Days that cost him a national election, he turned out to be a good chief executive. He helped to repair the breach left by Watergate and Vietnam, guided the national out of recessions, began to crack open the Iron Curtain, and turned over to Jimmy Carter reins that were once again taut. In the most basic test of presidential fitness, Ford succeeded: the country and presidency were in better shape than he had found them thirty months earlier.

More fundamentally, Jerry Ford knew that goodness of another kind had been lost in Vietnam and Watergate, and he restored that to the White House. Lies gave way to truth; disillusionment to a modicum of trust. Jimmy Carter, to his credit, pursued that same path as a candidate and president, but it was Ford who began the march. He may have been too nice to play in a tough racket; that’s a fair critique. Nor was he able to lead the nation fully out of the mire; the public’s faith in government and politics never regained its earlier peaks. Still, Jerry Ford set a standard of decency, openness, and honestly that, as a new century begins, is a flame of hope that somehow politics can once again become a noble calling. (Excerpted from Eyewitness to Power)

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