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Jewish World Review Aug. 20, 1999/ 8 Elul, 5759


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Honoring a mid-witted bumpkin

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- I KNOW THAT HISTORICAL REVISIONISM on the presidency and the men who’ve served in that office has accelerated in recent years, but two recent columns made me furrow my sunburned brow. Take Harry Truman. Vilified while in office, squeaking by to his only election in his own right in ’48, given a basic “Nyet!” when pondering a second full term in ’52. He was largely ignored in the Camelot years, and it wasn’t until the 70s that he acquired respectability. He’s now a Democratic god.

By contrast, Jimmy Carter and George Bush, both smart, good men—the former of whom insisted on micromanaging the country and had an ayatollah on his back; the latter saddled with a bum if quick recession and a self-destructive fib on raising taxes—were both rehabilitated rather quickly. Carter because he builds houses for the poor and sticks his nose in foreign affairs when Bill Clinton doesn’t have the nerve; the gentleman Bush because he was a loyal, decent man who placed family above everything, in contrast to the current occupant of the White House.

But Jerry Ford? This is getting ridiculous. On two successive days last week, Thursday and Friday, Ford was the recipient of glowing columns from pundits Mort Kondracke (Roll Call and JWR) and David Nyhan (The Boston Globe), whose eyes grew moist when Bill Clinton gave the accidental president an asterisk in American history, a Medal of Freedom on Aug. 11. Both lauded Ford’s decision to pardon Richard Nixon after the latter resigned 25 years ago and put Ford in the Oval Office, with Nyhan writing, “[P]residents sometimes do what they think is the right thing, even when they know it will cost them dearly.” Kondracke was worse:

“Some day, if we’re fortunate, we might have his like back in charge of the government again.”

Say what? Ford was a mid-witted bumpkin; nothing wrong with that, the country is full of similar men and women. But in his short tenure as president, he accomplished only three things that I can remember before losing to Carter (and almost to Ronald Reagan in the GOP primaries) two years later: the Nixon pardon, printing the ridiculous WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons, and providing a forum for his wife Betty to become the Queen of Confession. The current argument is that had Ford not let Nixon off the hook the country would’ve been torn asunder by the trial for his crimes while in office. Baloney. The Republic would’ve chugged along, business as usual. And Nixon would’ve prospered with a three-year stretch in Allenwood; he was the toughest of all political vultures and he’d have written even more books. Besides, it never seemed fair to me that all his subordinates were punished, but he got a get-out-jail-free card from dumb old Jerry.

Ford got a lot of initial mileage by declaring, “Our long national nightmare is over,” upon assuming office from the disgraced Nixon. Yes, yes, bleated the Beltway media, inept then as it is now. What “national nightmare”? Nixon deserved to be thrown out of office, and resigned with a shred of dignity, unlike one of his successors. When Clinton handed the octogenarian Ford (who muddled the President’s impeachment process by writing in The New York Times that Clinton should be “censured,” as daffy in his dotage as he was at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.) his gold watch last week, and said that Ford was “a leader of character, courage, decency and integrity,” you’d think he’d have choked on those words. But of course he didn’t: Clinton is oblivious to his failings, his utter defamation of the presidency, and just loves spouting platitudes.

I do believe that Ford, unlike Clinton, was decent and a man of character, but he was pretty much a joke of a president, just like Clinton, although for far more benign reasons.

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and publisher of New York Press. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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