Thursday, December 28, 2006

Watergate, Gays & Iraq: Thank You, Gerald Ford, for then and now

By Diane Silver

I was 22 when Richard Nixon resigned and Gerald R. Ford, a Congressman from my original home of Michigan, became president.

Along with everyone else I knew in the college town of East Lansing, I was exuberant about the departure of Tricky Dick. Heck, a restaurant called Beggar's Banquet served free champagne to everyone who walked through the door that day.

If you weren't alive then, I'm not certain you can really understand how it felt when the Watergate scandal finally led to Nixon's departure. It seemed as if we had been suddenly delivered from a terminal disease, at the same time we weren't certain we were going to survive the cure.

And then Ford took the stage as president. Calm. Solid. Honest.

Ford was, well, he was just Jerry, not much of a public speaker and a bit too conservative for my taste. To this day, I'm not certain he did the right thing in pardoning Nixon, but he was everything this country needed then. Above all Ford was a decent and honorable man, something that sometimes seems in short supply these days.

In reading his obituaries yesterday, I was struck by an extraordinary passage in The New York Times. It summed up Ford's decency very simply:
On an early trip as president to South Korea, he called American enlisted men "sir."
Can you imagine some of our recent leaders being that humble?

I entitled this post a thank you for "then and now" because this is more than just a post about the past. Ford carried his decency into the 21st Century.

In 2001, he stated his full support of fair laws for lesbians and gays.
Ford told Detroit News columnist Deb Price in a telephone interview that the provisions should include Social Security, tax and other federal benefits.

"I think they (same-sex couples) should be treated equally. Period," he said.

In addition, he stated support for a federal law banning workplace discrimination against gays: "That is a step in the right direction. I have a longstanding record in favor of legislation to do away with discrimination."
Do you know how extraordinary those statements are? Ford went farther than President Bill Clinton, such an allegedly big supporter of gay rights. Clinton signed the horrendous and misnamed Defense of Marriage Act, which banned same-sex couples from getting any federal benefits among other things.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post has just released a 2004 interview where Ford said that George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq wasn't justified.
In a four-hour conversation at his house in Beaver Creek, Colo., Ford "very strongly" disagreed with the current president's justifications for invading Iraq and said he would have pushed alternatives, such as sanctions, much more vigorously. In the tape-recorded interview, Ford was critical not only of Bush but also of Vice President Cheney -- Ford's White House chief of staff -- and then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who served as Ford's chief of staff and then his Pentagon chief.
Decent to the end and full of common sense. Thank you, Jerry. May you rest in peace.

About the Photo: I chose a photo of Ford with his wife, Betty, who seemed then and now to be so much a part of his legacy. Betty showed us how to be honest about our failings and helped many people in the process.

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