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Gerald R. Ford 1913-2006

"Our long national nightmare is over."
We turn our attentions away from the Devil Rays to the realm of current events today to mourn the loss of former President Gerald R. Ford, who passed away last night at the tender old age of 93. Mr. Ford, who died as the oldest president ever, had been in failing health for several years, though he was in far greater health than that of Ronald Reagan, the last president to die.

While Mr. Ford's presidency and the era is occurred it was before my time, as a student fascinated by the history of the American Presidency I developed a good level of knowledge of Mr. Ford and all other presidents. Before I got into baseball and sports, I was very much into American history and my knowledge of American presidents was very well-developed even as young as six years old. As such, I am doing this article on Mr. Ford with no other resources than my own knowledge and the details of his death as provided by the Associated Press article cited above. It is my way of honoring the legacy of one of the most honorable presidents to serve the Union, if not the most successful. His strength was his honesty, and that trait helped carry America through one of the most difficult times in its history.

Gerald Rudolph Ford was born in 1913, the same year as Richard Nixon and two years after Ronald Reagan. He was raised and lived most of his life in the state of Michigan, where he played football for the University of Michigan Wolverines. Although offered pro contracts in the NFL that included one offer from the Green Bay Packers, Mr. Ford elected not to go pro.

Mr. Ford's career in politics began after World War II, when he was elected to represent his local Michigan district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He would spend most of his political career in the House, rising to the rank of minority leader before being summoned by President Richard Nixon to become the Vice President following the resignation of Sprio Agnew for accepting bribes. An interesting tidbit about Mr. Ford is that he was not elected to become either President or Vice President. He was appointed to replace Agnew only a few months into Agnew's second term of office, and served out the remainder of Nixon's term as president following his resignation.

For a man who genuinely didn't want the executive office, Mr. Ford sure was placed on the fast track to it. Amid mounting evidence implying that President Nixon was involved in the illegal break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate Hotel during his 1972 re-election campaign, rumors of impeachment and an impending criminal indictment swirled rampant and eventually forced the resignation of Nixon on August 9, 1974. Following Nixon's resignation, Mr. Ford was sworn into office and became the nation's 38th president, serving the final 29 months of Nixon's presidency in the shortest presidential term since Warren Harding.

Mr. Ford was, in effect, a lame duck from the start. The Watergate scandal he inherited from the former Nixon administration resulted in the confidence of Americans in the presidency being at an all-time low. Combine that with the oil crisis and subsequent recession that paralyzed the economy, as well as the disgrace that was the American pullout from Vietnam, and it was just an insurmountable order of business for a two year presidency.

While Mr. Ford's integrity was beyond question, his pardoning of former President Nixon just a month into his presidency further added fuel to the flame and was ultimately the defining act that marked his undoing. He did so not out of loyalty to Nixon, but to spare the nation a dragged out witch hunt of former President Nixon, with the horrible travails of a criminal indictment. While universally derided at the time, it may have been his most forward-thinking and wisest act in retrospect.

The rest of Mr. Ford' presidency was similarly rocky. The video of U.S. Army helicopters evacuating American personnel from the U.S. embassy in Saigon will forever live as one of the most disgraceful reminders of the Vietnam War. While the pullout was not Mr. Ford's doing, he had to suffer its consequences politically. Ultimately though, the economy hit Americans the hardest. An oil embargo from the powers that be in the OPEC crippled American infrastructure and hurt the economy immensely. Gas rationing became part of daily life, and beyond Watergate, beyond Vietnam, Americans have proven that they vote with their pocketbook. The political climate was such that the Democrats could have nominated a peanut farmer for president and the farmer would have won. And that was exactly what they did. Although Mr. Ford narrowed the gap in the 1976 election towards the end, he was ultimately a victim of circumstances he couldn't control, being turned out of office and thus ending his political career.

Even though Mr. Ford would briefly make a serious run to be the Vice President for Ronald Reagan in his successful 1980 presidential run, it was ultimately not to be, and Mr. Ford would live a long and happy retirement, mostly playing golf, following his exit from politics. The famous quote "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln" that Mr. Ford uttered was a true representation of a simple man, who wanted to be remembered as such. Although Mr. Ford seemed to many a guy whom you would sit on the porch and have a beer with while watching football on TV, he ultimately did not drink alcohol in the final 32 years of his life. His wife Betty, perhaps most famous for the Betty Ford Clinic, had a bout with alcoholism during his career in public life that Mr. Ford never had, but as a show of solidarity with her he took a vow of sobriety. And although the lasting impression many may have of Mr. Ford as the guy sharing beer and nachos with Homer Simpson, or the guy stumbling down the Air Force One jet stairway in Salzburg, he was a very respectable, accomplished, simple man to those who knew him. He genuinely served to benefit his constituents, something rare in the political climate in today's world.

Mr. Ford served his country through perhaps the three most difficult years of modern America, and paid the price for it with his political career. But he was the kind of individual who wouldn't care about that. He would do whatever it took to serve his country, he would take the fall to make America better, and in the end, he did. He was a throwback to the days when government officials worked for the people, when Democrat or Republican was less important than getting things done, and when the guy representing you in Washington would fit in seamlessly in your living room. His moderate stances and unsurpassed honesty served America well in a time that it was needed most. And for that, America mourns his loss, and I thank an individual for serving his country for so many years, so well.

Former President Gerald Ford dies at 93 [Associated Press]

"I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln"

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