Don't laugh yet . . . .
It was a big hit to a young'un's world view when I watched Nixon give his resignation speech on TV. So much for all those civics and government classes in elementary school.
But as Ford's impromptu presidency wore on, I realized that the world hadn't come to an end (as long as one doesn't count several disco acts).
Frankly, President Ford did pretty good given the hand dealt him. And tell me the last time you saw a presidential press secretary host Saturday Night Live while his boss was in power.
I ran across this column by Georgie Anne Geyer today while engaging in terminal historical analysis:
GERALD FORD SHOWED US WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AMERICAN
WASHINGTON -- Even in death, Jerry Ford did one more favor for the country he gave so much to. He died just at the moment when, with his country riven by a vicious and irrelevant war and American public culture filled with vulgarity, his memory could recall for us what America once was.
The 38th president personified, in the very best sense, what it meant to be American. He was a big, handsome, warm man, and perhaps that helped him be as modest as he was. He was honest, honorable, loyal and, above all, commonsensical. We could compare Ford, born and raised in Michigan, to Lincoln of Illinois -- except that Ford's favorite (and contestable) saying was, "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln."
Even Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon, which surely cost him the presidency in 1976, showed the type of principles that seem to fare so badly in today's America. He pardoned Nixon because he knew the country could not bear years of court cases and more strife. He never was sorry for it, and he was surely right.
Odd, isn't it, that this fine, quintessentially Midwestern American should choose to leave us at probably the most dangerous moment in our recent national life. When our leadership is so intemperate about searching for world domination, when institutions like our Congress appear so dysfunctional in the light of American history, and when the common values of a Grand Rapids, Mich., man seem to have faded from the national screen.
As we mourn this good man and remember his remarkable wife, Betty Ford, and as we face 2007, President Ford's passing, at the grand old age of 93, presents us with some serious internal questions. Do we still have in us the old American principles of honesty, loyalty, authenticity, sincerity and simplicity that the Fords exemplified? Or has the country truly changed, perhaps into a nation of humans disconnected from one another by everything except land mass? Is there a truly American creed anymore, or are we simply a "nation" of individual anomies?
Because this moment is so precarious, I think we can look at 2007 and say, This will almost surely be our defining year. This year will tell us what we still are -- and what we no longer are. It will say whether there is, indeed, any real American exceptionalism left.
What we have seen this last year is not promising. Every month of 2006, the Iraq that we set out to "save" has broken down more irrevocably, until we see today a decimated state of our making, and we blame it on them. Our worst leaders are given medals of honor in the White House, while the wisest ones go unheard. Small guerrilla units that could have been contained in one or two countries now span the world -- can you believe, Somalia, AGAIN? We talk about bombing Iran, when we know that its oil wealth is going down so drastically that it will not even be a regional power in a few years.
Even the planet Pluto, poor Pluto, the little guy out there, was downgraded in 2006 from a full planet to a "dwarf planet."
Twenty years ago this new year, Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev came to Washington in December to hang out with President Ronald Reagan. The mood was euphoric, as Reagan told four of us columnists that the Cold War was over! The first President Bush picked up the mood of the era beautifully, and we were well on our way to a successful post-Cold War period. It seemed like a new age had dawned, but President Bill Clinton did not follow up aggressively on the end of the Cold War, and President George W. Bush has lost whatever hope was left for rebuilding the world with his wanton and indiscriminate war-making.
Meanwhile, on both of these presidents' watches, because of lack of interest and competence, the international organizations built up after World War II were left unreformed and untended. The awful little wars popping up everywhere, with no one to intelligently address their causes, are echoes of the emptiness inside of organizations like the United Nations and regional organizations, which have foundered without American leadership.
Iraq will tell the story in 2007. There is little chance that there will be even a stable government in Iraq, though that is the best that can be hoped for. The worst possibility would be an all-out retreat, which would bring forth the rage of the Iraqis and leave the United States scarred forever.
So how we act this year -- what leaders and thinkers we pick to guide us, which of our historical concepts we cling to and which we discard, whether we are able to reinvigorate Jerry Ford's Americanism in this new era -- is going to decide our future. Happy New Year!
COPYRIGHT 2006 UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE "
I wish our current supposedly-elected, terminally numbnutted government could take the hint from the old-timers