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Mark Shields
Mark Shields
19 Jul 2014
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The 2012 Gerry Ford Test

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It was rightly said of President Harry Truman that he liked being Harry Truman: He was comfortable being Harry Truman; he never thought about being anybody else but Harry Truman.

Equally comfortable in his own skin was President Gerald R. Ford, who more than once quoted Harry Truman on the isolation of flattery to which occupants of the Oval Office so regularly succumb: "The President hears one hundred voices telling him that he is the greatest man in the world. He must listen carefully indeed to hear the one voice that tells him he isn't."

In the 12 presidential campaigns I have been lucky enough to work in or cover, I have never observed a presidential nominee more emotionally healthy than Gerald Ford. Most presidential candidates are so consumed by ambition for the office they lust after that they end up spending too much of their time and lives plotting or manipulating to get there.

As a Republican representative from Grand Rapids, Mich., and as the GOP's House minority leader, Ford had the then-unrealistic goal of becoming speaker after leading Republicans to a majority in the House. Along the way, he instead — after the forced resignations of Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon — became the president of a divided and disheartened nation.

Gerry Ford, refreshingly free of neuroses or self-importance, was Midwestern open and American natural. Voters responded. His 71 percent job-approval rating — some 44 points above the resigning Nixon's — was the highest given any president in 10 years.

Then Gerald Ford listened not to any White House palace guard or campaign mavens. He put principle over political popularity and consciously sabotaged his own chances for re-election by pardoning Richard M.

Nixon.

Like too many others at the time, I slipped from skepticism into cynicism, sure that the pardon must have been part of a secret deal for Nixon to leave and Ford to rise. President Ford's poll numbers began the steep drop down to 37 percent approval.

I, and every other cynic, was absolutely wrong. What President Ford did in pardoning Nixon was both courageous and wise. Thus did the man who took pride in the fact that he only had momentary adversaries and no political enemies save his fellow Americans from continuing to tear themselves apart over Richard Nixon. His moral courage (he had already, as his 10 World War II battle stars attested, proved his physical courage) made it possible for the healing of the nation to begin.

After the 1976 Kansas City Republican convention, where a switch of just 59 of the 2,257 delegates to Ronald Reagan would have cost him the nomination, President Ford on Labor Day trailed his Democratic challenger, Jimmy Carter, by 30 points in the polls. That year, more than 81.5 million Americans voted for president. That meant Ford in September was more than 24 million votes behind Carter. By a brilliant campaign effort, Ford closed the gap to the point where on Election Day, with a switch of only 12,740 votes in Ohio and Mississippi, he would have won the White House. The bad taste left from the Nixon pardon changed history.

Regardless of your personal leanings or loyalties, are you optimistic, let alone confident, that your preferred 2012 presidential candidate would jeopardize victory in November — to say nothing of his entire political career — by daring to stare into his own political grave and to put principle above popularity and the health of the nation ahead of his own ambition? Is it too much to ask for a president in 2013 who could pass the Gerry Ford test?

To find out more about Mark Shields and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

COPYRIGHT 2012 MARK SHIELDS



Comments

16 Comments | Post Comment
Great article. Many of us remember Ford holding the pointer and promoting WIN buttons. If he was a statesman instead of a politician we sure didn't hear about it then. No one passes the Geral Ford test today, I think that may be Shields point. The courage to place the needs of the country as a whole over ideology is certainly not characteristic of the current administration, and I don't look for it much if Romney wins. I'm not really sure that Romney desires anything but the Presidency itself. I can't figure out why he is running. Obama is an intellectually stifled idealogue who thinks he knows better than anyone. That ego factor causes an average (or sometimes below average) person to believe they are elite. This is what you get with lunchbucket doctorates: theory and conjecture over fact and certainty. For example: a Constitutional Law professor who doesn't understand Marbury V. Madison and then lectures some of his intellectual superiors as to what they may or may not consider from the bench.

I suspect neither of the current candidates would have a GPA that even qualifies them to take the Gerald Ford Test. Too bad, it makes an American WIN seem a remote possibility. But then, the past always looks better. We know how Ford's term ended, and everybody lived.

Comment: #1
Posted by: Tom
Fri Apr 6, 2012 8:26 AM
Count me among the millions who felt betrayed when Ford pardoned Nixon. On reflection, though, if that was the deal to get Nixon out of the White House, that was OK. At the end Nixon was crazy enough to launch the missiles and end the world. Ford brought sanity back to the White House.

On another subject: "... a Constitutional Law professor who doesn't understand Marbury V. Madison and then lectures some of his intellectual superiors as to what they may or may not consider from the bench." Don't listen to Fox News. Obama understands very well. Those hacks on the Supreme Court are somewhat less than his intellectual superiors, although people who can come up with Bush v. Gore and Citizens United do possess some mental agility.

Comment: #2
Posted by: Bruce Strickland
Fri Apr 6, 2012 4:53 PM
Re: Bruce Strickland. Yep, sorry to Mr. Shields, I don't quite go for that rosy memory of what sure looked to me like an inside deal. And it sure didn't look the slightest bit necessary to get Nixon out of the White House. He was toast any way you wanted to slice it.

I don't go for the healing crap either. How about crime, punishment, and accountability? This was a law and order guy. His crimes were unprecedented, and I have no doubt the full extent of them didn't even come to light. They were an utter insult to every citizen of this country who thought Nixon represented anything even vaguely representing the honesty we expect a president, let alone a common citizen, to have.

So why were we deciding a frank law breaker, whose deceit changed the history of the nation and the planet, should get a break? What kind of message did that send to the young and idealistic students of politics of the time?
It totally shook my faith in the integrity of the political system of this country. Cut a deal in the back room, and help to set the stage, for example, for that stinking list of criminals Clinton let off the hook as he went out of office. That's the way it looks to me.

I guess Ford was a nice, warm and fuzzy guy, although there's the other view that his alleged inability to walk and chew gum at the same time called into question how sharp he really was about anything, even political survival.
I must admit his wife Betty was pretty darn cool though, and her obvious intelligence argued against that slur against her husband's intelligence.

Who knows, but I still don't get the pardon. Nixon's crimes were obvious and alarming, there really was no opposing view with any kind of political legs, no sign of some kind of ripple of political instability ready to burst out as a result of taking him out, and it sure seems to me that it did a lot to set the stage for a steady decline in the integrity of American politics.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Masako
Fri Apr 6, 2012 8:28 PM
Wonderful column. Shields has caught essential qualities of leadership: comfortable in your own skin, knowing what you're about and making tough decisions that are good for the country even if the decision politically hurts in the short or long run.

As one who opposed Ford's domestic vetoes, and had a hand in the public interest world in Nixon's downfall, I have revised my initial hostility to the Nixon pardon. Ford helped us get past the nightmare of Watergate.

It's worth reflecting on Presidents we think of more kindly than I did when i was a young man. For me it's Washington, Grant, Eisenhower and Ford. It doesn't make me any less a liberal.

David Cohen
Washington, DC
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Cohen
Sat Apr 7, 2012 4:06 AM
I agree completely with Mark Shields' column above. Although I, too, was initially shocked and disappointed by his pardon of Nixon, after reflection, I changed my mind.
The Gerry Ford test is a tough one. President Obama fails in relation to Wall Street, Big Banks, and Big Business, but he passes on healthcare reform, saving the U.S. auto industry, opposing the tax break insanity on the part of Republicans in favor or the rich, and taking a gigantic risk to eliminate Osama bin Laden. All of which he has done in the face of "you lie" and "our first priority is to make him a one term president" from the day he took office.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Dav id
Sat Apr 7, 2012 1:53 PM
Both Truman and Ford weren't elected for their first terms. Maybe that says something about our selection process
Comment: #6
Posted by: Fred
Sat Apr 7, 2012 6:58 PM
Sir;...Let me add my voice to those who say that the pardon of Richard Nixon was wrong... That was the victory of personal prejudice over principal: a settled principal of law, settled since the middle ages, in fact, that both king and commoner are subject to the law...We are not Germans here... We do not consider our princes beyond our judgment, and meekly accept their judgment of us... It is a bit of cynicism in a cynical world to say that the laws are made by the rich for the poor to obey; but that is exactly the message sent by that pardon of that obvious felon...

Consider sir; that in a working and moral society, that morals as forms should be reflected in the social form of law... Justice is the Genus, and Law a species of it, if you believe Abalard...When a class of people who preach morality and law to the poor act contrary to law, to decency, to ethics and against the welfare of the country, what they teach is that each person can be the judge of their own behavior, and in fact, that no cop means no law... People are still moral, but usually so where there is no money in being immoral...We have come to expect, in large part, that where great money or power is at stake that there is no law or morality capable of commanding the attention of people...We are not then incapable of greatness, but even incapable of freedom since freedom requires trust...

Our winner take all politics brings out the absolute worst behavior in people... Surrogates spin such awful webs of lies on television that we must question what sort of ignoramus would buy their insinuations... But reconsider the past, and ask: who elected Richard Nixon and why??? When LBJ was undercutting his party's candidate for the office he held, Nixon was making deals with the First Lady of Vietnam... He was promising a secret plan to get us out of Vietnam when he had nothing, and settled for practically the same deal already made by LBJ, only four years late; and how many lives of how many human beings later??? What a republican can do in the area of foreign policy is what anyone could do without a republican mob of dogs carping at them, and gnawing at their ankles... Nixon opened up China... Who else could, since if a democrat had tried, all his efforts would have been painted red...

Because we are not a democracy, and it takes only the votes of a majority to rule over a minority, that power invites any crime, and any abuse of fellow citizen and any of principals...The pardon of Mr. Nixon was unpardonable... It was calculated on the fact that most democrats are democrats for life just as republicans are republicans for life, and that people would remember party, and forget the excrable deed that denied to the whole nation its justice... What Mr. Nixon did he did to the nation, to the whole people... It can easily be heard from the evidence how little public service ever had of Mr. Nixons attention...

Justice was denied to him... Justice was denied to democrat and republican and innocent bystander as well... It is not some evil you do to a person when you give him justice if that is ever possible in any perfect sense or not... Justice is each person's due, not worse nor better than they deserve... Mr. Nixon did not give this people justice ever, and I will grant that few in high office ever try; but that is beside the point... We still owed it to him, and Mr. Ford denied us that possibility in an open forum...Mr. Ford exceeded his rights, and denied us our rights; and for that he should suffer ignominy... Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #7
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Sun Apr 8, 2012 6:26 AM
Both Presidential candidates, Republican and Democrat, will pass the question posed in Mr. Shields final sentence:
"Is it too much to ask for a president in 2013 who could pass the Gerry Ford test?
Not at all. Whoever is elected will pass.
The wealthy and powerful, including President Obama and the Republican nominees for president have already forgiven the thieves and looters A.K.A.corporate financiers, Wall Street, and Bankers, who brought about global economic collapse. Poor and middle class Americans for generations will be trying to recover from the damage caused by their excessive greed and lack of concern for anything but profit at any cost.
Yet these wealthy and powerful Americans have all been forgiven, fact some of them have government jobs courtesy of President Obama, and most are friends and colleagues of Romney and very well seated among the other good ole boy Republicans.
As President Ford forgave former President Nixon, "they" are forgiven and a place has been set at the table.
It is business as usual in America. "Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practiced to deceive."
Comment: #8
Posted by: Steve
Sun Apr 8, 2012 6:31 PM
Re: Steve; Sir... when the banks were on the edge of going belly up, and for the last time of so many times in recent history, the government could have said: Enough is Enough!!!... The government could have been a bank for America, or at minimum could have had the banks eating out of its hand, doing the public good, behaving themselves instead of robbing the nation blind... The perception in the government -made up of so many rich people and rich wannabees, is that the government cannot live without the banks and without rich people... The fact is, that without government always putting the banks on life support, without their perpetual encouragement of risky behavior, without their defense of ill gotten gains, without their leaving the public and the economy at the mercy of the rich there would be no rich as we have them today: irresponsible rich, unwilling to even pay taxes for the defense that the government is obliged to give them...

The principal upon which the government acts is that what is good for the rich and for business is good for America... America is not some abstraction... America is the American people, and the principal does not work for the American people, if it ever did...I do not think it is good to export jobs, and import welfare... I do not think it is good to load the support of so many unworking Americans on the backs of fewer and fewer working Americans... Government if it would govern must be governed by fact, and judge all good by whether it is good for Americans of every stripe... The banks are enemies of the people, bleeders of the people, rapers of the whole economy... Nothing happens without interest being paid, and the government supports this on principal, but the principal has failed...The government is not the bank of the people, but is the bank for the bankers who rob the people with interest on every item of commerce including their own wages... The principal suggests that the government taking a cut of a growing economy will support itself and all displaced and injured parties... The fact is that interest sucks all the money and value out of the economy until the whole thing goes bust and then the bankers plead with government to put the people on the hook to save it... How stupid is it to loan the banks money to loan to government when interest must be paid at every step and then collected from the people??? Kill the banks... Revive the people...Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #9
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Apr 9, 2012 4:56 AM
Mr. Sweeney, Government and Corporations continue to have it their way in their quest for more wealth and more power. Even more important, WE THE PEOPLE HAVE IT BASSACKWARD. When the citizens, the workers, the mass consumers recognize that they are the wealth and power of a country and not the bankers or their gold or the government, only then will we progress. Many would accuse this President of Socialist tendencies while failing to recognize the Sociopathic society in which we live, created while the media divided us with our own prejudicial thinking.
I offer my truth, but not my words for your consideration:

Compare the behavioral profile of the sociopath with the actions and attitudes of the typical politician: sociopaths don't have normal moral reservations about manipulating people like objects; this is precisely how politicians get elected. Sociopaths understand little about human emotion beyond ego gratification; the prestige of high office satisfies this desire for the politician. Sociopaths wear a facade of normalcy and are often charming, but lie compulsively. Politicians speak in polite terms while plotting to stab their colleagues in the back. If they're not telling outright lies, they're “spinning” facts to suit their needs. Sociopaths don't feel guilt or remorse or empathy; no US official to date has apologized for invading Iraq on false pretenses, turning five million Iraqi's into refugees, pumping Fallujah full of depleted uranium, or engaging in torture. Nobody in government has publicly investigated the Bush Administration's use of torture or civil liberties violations. Sociopaths are glib, superficial, impulsive; their goal is the creation of a dependent, willing victim. Elected office is the ideal job description for a sociopath. The desire to attain office should disqualify a person from holding such a position.
In competitive society, people are trained by sociopaths to think like sociopaths. The public relations and marketing firms employed by both commercial and political interests train people to be opportunistic and calculating, to always be on the lookout for ways to treat other people as means that can be manipulated to various ends. People are taught to be individualistic and egocentric rather than compassionate and cooperative. Much of the advertising with which individuals are daily inundated promotes impulsive behavior and acculturates individuals to the distortions of reality that characterize most advertising and marketing. As young people are brought into the fold, they become adults who are active participants in this process of training others to think like sociopaths — to think in the terms expounded by commercial marketers and political spin doctors — to such an extent that genuinely different worldviews become completely incoherent, in virtue of a sociopathic lack of empathy.

Beyond accommodating the lies and distortions that characterize so much advertising, marketing, and political posturing, individuals are, in numerous other ways, trained to think like sociopaths. The aesthetic appreciation of violence in films, TV, and video games is an obvious example; a less obvious example is the popularity of “funniest home video” programs.They harvest moments of trauma from among the general population, and, in terms of their presentation, they train audiences to override natural empathy responses and to find humor in the misfortune of others.

Without an awareness of these dynamics, little can be done about them. It is hard to criticize or correct a social trend without being able to even name it. But such contemporary developments as the imposition of “austerity measures” or the renewed effort to disrupt labor organization and revoke “collective bargaining rights” can be understood in a precise historical context; to the extent that ordinary citizens support such measures, these citizens are being manipulated by criminal sociopaths.


In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, John Locke wrote, “he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those in that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design or take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war” (¶19). John Locke is not some fringe figure; the Preamble to the US Constitution is more or less a summary of Locke's basic ideas on legitimate authority.

What is happening today has happened before, has been studied, and named, and diagnosed already. In the past, monarchs caused civil unrest; today it is powerful sociopaths who have rigged the game to serve their own ends, who create for themselves an aura of respectability, and thus wrest from citizens assent to a degenerate state of affairs.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Steve
Mon Apr 9, 2012 7:52 AM
Which is to say, we have aided in our own destruction.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Steve
Mon Apr 9, 2012 8:21 AM
The government could have been a bank for America, or at minimum could have had the banks eating out of its hand, doing the public good, behaving themselves instead of robbing the nation blind.

government is not the bank of the people government is the bank for the bankers who rob the people.

The banks are enemies of the people, bleeders of the people, rapers of the whole economy... Nothing happens without interest being paid, and the government supports this on principal, but the principal has failed..

The principal suggests that the government taking a cut of a growing economy will support itself and all displaced and injured parties (you and me). The fact is that interest sucks all the money and value out of the economy until the whole thing goes bust and then the bankers plead with government to put the people on the hook to save it


The fact is, that without government always putting the banks on life support, without their perpetual encouragement of risky behavior, without their defense of ill gotten gains, without their leaving the public and the economy at the mercy of the rich there would be no rich as we have them today..


How stupid is it to loan the banks money to loan to government when interest must be paid at every step and then collected from the people?

irresponsible rich, unwilling to even pay their fair share of taxes for the defense that the government is obliged to give them...

Kill the banks... Revive the people.

Thanks... Sweeney

Pearls, Mr. Sweeney. Pearls. Many thanks to you.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Steve
Mon Apr 9, 2012 9:57 AM
I am convinced there is one canidate that can meet your standard. The only problem is, I sipmly cannot vote for him. Tje isolationist foreign policy is a killer. His name is Ron Paul. He has been abundantly comfortable as the Libertarian standard bearer for over thirty years. He would make what he thought was the right decision, come what may. You may not agree with him, but no one can excuse him of ditching his principles for the sake of political expediency.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Ethan Roninson
Mon Apr 9, 2012 4:24 PM
*accuse*
Comment: #14
Posted by: Ethan Roninson
Mon Apr 9, 2012 4:25 PM
All the Ford pardon of Nixon did was assure everyone that some people are above the law.In that he underminded all America is supposed to stand for.Do we have more ethics in politicians or less now?
Comment: #15
Posted by: WILLIAM KELLEY
Mon Apr 9, 2012 7:36 PM
Re: WILLIAM KELLEY... If you ask after the ethics of our politicians you ask after honor, and if you ask after their honor you must ask after the honor of this whole nation... We might have been able to point, as a nation at the conviction of Mr. Nixon, and say to the world: This is what we do with those who sell their honor to buy our power...When we delagate our authority to elected officials it is as a trust, and with an obligation...And the trappings of honor are everywhere, but what good are the oaths of dishonorable people???


On the other side; if we are so willing to be divided neighbor from neighbor, and citizen from citizen along all possible lines, between men and women, rich and poor, black and white, and consider that it is our right -so long as it is possible- to take our welfare out of the mouths of our neighbors, then dishonorable representation is all we deserve...To deserve this land we must first defend it, and to deserve our rights we must defend them, and these are not tasks possible for a divided or dishonorable people ... Rome made itself strong on conquests, and it made the rule of subject peoples possible by dividing them... Divide et Empera was their code... In dividing the people of the empire, Rome sowed the seed of its own destruction because the colonies that could not defend themselves from Rome could offer Rome no defense... It was a leap that Caesar was willing to make that led to his assasination, of wanting to unite the empire with universal citizenship... Those who wished only to exploit the people would not hear of it...Rome prefered glory to survival, and we are an imitation Roman Republic...

Agreement; and unity are issues that must be pressed and worked for... No one can have justice all to themselves... If we would have justice we must give justice... If we would have honor we must concede honor...The Tamany Hall method of politics, of seeing ones chances and taking them, is past... If we will survive long into the future we must accept democracy... We must rid ourselves of the parties that divide us, and then rules in the name of a specious majority...We cannot presume that every native sitting around the glow of dying embers had an easy time with his democracy, or that he was less surrounded by enemies than are we... We have to understand that consensus must be demanded and expected to be had, and that justice -for one- is justice for all...

We are not going to take our welfare and rights out of the mouths of our children only because we have sold our own cheap...Even if we understand that up until this moment we have dishonorably sold our rights, and the rights of others here and around the world to have a better standard of living for ourselves, that we still must demand what we sold that was not ours to alienate, and that we have the obligation to do so for our own defense, and for the defense of our children... Just as people can lose hope and find it again, people can lose their honor and find it again; and with it we will find freedom and democracy...Honor; the ethical relationship between the individual and his community is that quality which gives him the courage to fight and die for the rights he cannot live without.... Thanks... Sweeney
Comment: #16
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Wed Apr 11, 2012 7:44 AM
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