Saturday, January 06, 2007

"I am a Ford, not a Lincoln"

Distance in time and history contain in them the balm which alleviates and heals wounds. "I am a Ford, not a Lincoln," once said recently deceased President Ford in a humble manner with double meaning. He was making reference to his last name and that of another president and in a satirical sense to the brand names of two types of automobiles. He wanted to say that he was himself and not another person. Humbly he was asking of us not to expect from him the greatness of a President Lincoln.

Ironically, Gerald R. Ford, just as the one he did not want to be compared to, presided over a moment of national division, a moment where political polarization had fractured the national community. He was a man who framed by his own time, left nevertheless, his mark on that time. Ford, similarly to Lincoln, took on unpopular decisions and was accused of being, as said in today's phraseology, "a divider, not a 'uniter'." As was Lincoln, President Ford was not very popular during his own era. However, as time has passed, we have seen how those decisions which appeared divisive resulted in preserving a united nation.

Nixon suffered what no other president suffered as the result of his actions. His resignation, humiliation and place in history as the only president forced to resign went farther than any possible sentence… but for some that was not enough…they wanted to see him even more humiliated… rub his nose on the ground and dance around his defeat… see him behind bars. However, as old Samurai warriors of old Japan thought-"Do not humiliate your enemy in his defeat and leave him space for saving face, and perhaps one day he will be your friend."-moving forward proved to be the wisest choice.

Many wanted to make ashes out of Nixon. Many wanted to blame him for a war that he inherited and which he simply wanted to end without long term negative consequences for his country. Today, with the passage of time the majority of American people understand the wise decision by Ford, and the contributions made by Nixon in domestic and foreign policies.

When President Reagan presided he was accused of being a warmonger, an agent of division, not of unity, to say the least he was not of the liking of all. With the passage of time his role in ending the Cold War, the nuclear arms race and in advancing democracy in various parts of the world, including Latin America, was better appreciated. On his passing, the people poured out in spontaneous expressions of gratitude. Streets filled with people, most countries and diverse world leaders paid homage to him and when the funeral cortège went by truckers, homemakers and people of all types stopped traffic to see and salute his passing by. Time indeed provides perspective.

Of all recent presidents, and of those still living, it could be said that some that are hated will be reappraised by the valor of their decisions, others that were idolized will be less appreciated for their selfish and partisan interests. The first will be valued for placing the interest of the nation above the polls and elections, and the second will be forgotten for having placed their political careers and their legacies above the national welfare.

But President Ford was not just a man of his time but also of his upbringing and something in the character of Gerald R. Ford reflected the character of West Michigan. Neither as president nor as a person, nor as former president was there ever noticed the ostentatious egocentrism of other presidents now former presidents. Never was heard from him pronouncements against the policies of a sitting president, nor of public self-aggrandizement, nor of seeking attention for himself.

President Ford did not consider polls or the consequences of his pardon of Nixon but that which he understood was best for the country. Ford gave us a lesson in wisdom, compassion and loyalty. Yes, Ford said something true when he said he did not want to be compared to Lincoln; Ford was Ford.