Unfortunately, Gerald Ford isn't the kind of person America elects as its president.
He was unique in American history, rising to the presidency in 1974 without ever having been elected either as president or vice president. He lost his only run for the presidency to Jimmy Carter in 1976. In today's high pressure political arena he probably wouldn't stand a chance of even gaining the nomination. He just wasn't the kind of person who goes for the jugular, a seeming requirement in today's world of negative campaigning.
His focus, as many friends and colleagues recalled after his death Tuesday night, was on facilitating the best course for the country and treating those around him with respect. The words used to describe him on Wednesday universally returned that respect. Ford was "one of the most admirable public servants and human beings I have ever known," said Carter. "Ford was, simply put, one of the most decent and capable men I ever met," said former President George H.W. Bush.
Honest is another word that comes to mind. It was an attribute that was sorely missing in the White House when Ford arrived. He was appointed by President Nixon to replace Vice President Spiro Agnew, who resigned amid a bribery scandal in October 1973. He rose to the presidency after the Watergate scandal drove Nixon from office in 1974. Ford wasn't flashy, but he was someone the nation could trust.
Ford's ability to lead was grounded in his integrity. Nixon said he chose Ford for the vice presidency over others because his reputation in Congress meant he would be easily confirmed for the job. When Nixon left office and Ford took over, he put the future of the nation ahead of his own political future by pardoning Nixon for his involvement in Watergate. An angry nation probably never forgave him for that, but he thought it was the only way to move the nation forward, and he probably was right.
The United States left Vietnam and Saigon fell during the 895 days Ford served as president. He was the target of two assassination attempts during his presidency and the subject of numerous jokes based on awkward moves on and off the golf course, where more than one person was struck by an errant Ford golf ball. Ford's humility always allowed him to laugh along with others when the joke was on him.
The current President Bush called Ford "a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character." Amid recent congressional scandals that have prompted the new leadership of the U.S. House to make ethics reform a top priority, that would seem to set Ford apart from far too many people who succeeded him in Congress. His death is a reminder of the importance for seeking more officeholders who share Ford's legacy of exhibiting "the best in America's character."