While I was away on vacation, I heard the news that former President Gerald Ford had died at age 93. I thought back to the day, just a few weeks before I started college, when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency and Ford was sworn in as our 38th President.
I always liked Ford. I thought highly of him. He brought a quiet, low-key dignity to the presidency at a time when culturally the nation was close to tearing itself apart. Vietnam and Watergate, compounded by the "cultural revolution" of the 60s... Our culture was in some ways on the ropes. Not that it's ever fully recovered, even to this day. Not that it ever will fully recover, not as long as the generation of the 60s endures. Our culture to this day bears the disfiguring scars of that era: polarization, politicized rage, endless recrimination, and self-loathing cultural deconstruction raised to the level of everyday routine. The center has not held. I can only imagine how much worse it might have been had President Ford not had the courage to do the right thing and pardon Nixon.
Gerald Ford was a decent man, and he performed an important work for the nation simply by being himself. He was the only President since the assassination of Kennedy to escape what has become a cultural and political routine: all of the rest of them, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan,
Ford was the only President in the past 40-plus years to escape that: the worst they ever found to say about him is that he was physically clumsy. And I'm not convinced even that was really true of him.
I must confess that in the fall of 1976 for a time I did some volunteer campaign work for Jimmy Carter. I was young, I was in college. But I saw through Carter with uncanny prescience before Election Day, and ended up casting my first presidential vote, at age 20, for Gerald Ford. It was a very close election: I sometimes wonder how different, and how much better, our world would have been had Ford been elected to a second and full term. On the other hand, perhaps we had to pass through Carter first in order to get to Reagan.
And now Gerald Ford has passed from the scene. Requiescat in pace.