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Archive for Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Ford’s pardon may have changed history

January 2, 2007

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History is a funny thing.

Reporters and historians used Gerald Ford's death to revisit old debates about Watergate - should he have pardoned Nixon? - but deep in the coverage there was a clue that, had Ford made one decision differently, George W. Bush might not be president today.

Follow me here. We're about to start the always-fun game of "What If?"

In 1980, four years after Ford lost the presidency to Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan was nominated by the GOP to run for the White House. Unlike today - when the political conventions are essentially weeklong advertisements - there was real drama when Republicans convened that year: Nobody knew who the vice-presidential candidate would be.

And here's where history gets to be funny: Reagan, you see, wanted Ford as his running mate.

It was an extraordinary suggestion - that a former president might return to the Executive Branch in a subordinate role - and it fell apart, ultimately, because Ford thought the proposal was unworkable. He told reporters he could campaign for Reagan more effectively as a former president than as a candidate.

So Reagan went with his backup plan: George H.W. Bush.

The elder Bush, of course, rode Reagan's coattails into a presidential term of his own. And whether you like the guy or not, there's little denying that much of the early buzz surrounding the son in 2000 came from the fact that he already had a presidential name: "George Bush."

Follow the chain of events, and it's easy to argue that, had Ford decided differently, our current president might not have had the recognition that helped catapult him to the top of the GOP and, in the end, the presidency.

And from there, you can argue that the last six years of American history might've unfolded in a vastly different manner ... if only Ford had been convinced to run with Reagan.

Of course, everything might've been largely the same. The fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of militant Islam and the growing strength of the conservative movement probably would've happened with or without the Bushes - we might have ended up with the same history, only with different faces.

All of this is, of course, unknowable.

That doesn't mean the "What If?" game is completely useless; it reminds us that history isn't just a sequence of events, like fence posts linked together by barbed wire. It's more like a series of dominoes, one incident knocking the next and on down the line.

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