A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Gerald Ford: The Crucial Quality of Character

The longest living and the only President not elected to that office, nor the office of Vice-President, has died.

Gerald Ford was drafted into the office of Vice-President when Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973. He became President some nine months later when Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. He inherited a very difficult situation in the nation with a declining economy, on the tail-end of the quite unpopular Vietnam War, and perhaps, what had emerged as the most tumultuous matter, the loss of respect for the office of President of the United States because of the egregious behavior of Richard Nixon.

It is sad, but quite true that politics in America has become so issues-obsessed that the character of our leaders takes a back seat. How many times have we heard it expressed that what matters is not an individual's personal behavior, but where she or he stands on the issues? Yet, what happened in those difficult days in 1973/74 reveals the mistaken nature of such a claim. Only an individual with high moral character could begin to restore the respect of the office of the presidency and respect for the institution of politics in general. Respect cannot be had without character. Ford's character was also seen in his ability to put relationship above partisan politics as a warm friendship developed later in life with his former presidential opponent, Jimmy Carter.

Ford's most controversial act as President was the pardon he granted to Richard Nixon, which was roundly criticized at the time, but now in hindsight is generally agreed to have been the right decision. In this post- O.J. Simpson, Monicagate world, it is now clear that the trial of an ex-President would have stymied the nation and continued to widen the divisions within the country. No doubt there are those who still believe the pardon was nothing more than an example of partisan politics; and while, in one respect, it is unfortunate that often people in high places never seem to pay for their crimes, President Ford understood that there was the larger matter of the good of the nation. He knew that what was best for the nation was to move on; the only way that could happen was to spare the country a long and drawn-out trial of a former President. In this he takes his place beside Abraham Lincoln, whose plan post Civil War was not to punish the South, but to bring them back into the Union and move on; now known as the right decision, but at the time there were those in the North who wanted to administer their own brand of justice upon the Rebels. Ford's pardon of Nixon cost him the presidential election of 1976, but even in this his character shone before the world; for people of character act on what they believe to be right, not on what other people want nor on what will get them ahead in life. People of character put doing the right thing ahead of everything else.

Henry Kissinger said that Gerald Ford was the right President for the right time. How true this is. After he became President, Ford said that he was a "Ford" not a "Lincoln," a not-so-veiled self-deprecating reference to himself as not being of the stature of the Civil War President. Yet, in the passing of history we now know that what we needed a little over thirty years ago, was exactly what we received. In the early 1860s, the country needed a Lincoln in the White House and in the early 1970s we needed a Ford, which is precisely what we got... and the United States is a better nation.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian.


Ted M. Gossard said...

Allan, I so much agree. And we need more like him today. Thanks for this!

Allan R. Bevere said...


We do need more like him. We get so bogged down in issue politics that it can be difficult for us to see the indispensable nature of character and integrity for good governance. I did not agree with his position on abortion, for example, but in spite of that, I think we need to look at the totality of his life and see how he restored a sense of trust to governmnent. That could not have been done had his character been questionable.