Gerald R. Ford, 38th President of the United States, died this evening. Called to high office because everybody in Congress liked him, he turned out to be just the man needed to replace Richard Nixon after that President's resignation.
Even allowing for the unprecedented circumstances that put him in the White House, President Ford had a number of very difficult circles to square, mostly connected with foreign policy. It was President Ford's bitter, and unsought, task to preside over the final liquidation of the American position in Southeast Asia. The ignominious abandonment of South Vietnam and Cambodia to our cruel enemies, which so many Americans died to prevent -- is surely one of the blackest and most shameful episodes in American history. President Ford, however, was largely blameless, the humiliation the responsibility of other hands. The US held an extraordinarily weak diplomatic and military hand, courtesy of the liberal Democratic majority that controlled the Congress, and President Nixon's Watergate scandal.
Unfortunately, President Ford paid the political price both for President Nixon's errors, and for his courageous decision to pardon his predecessor, rather than putting the country through the national trauma of protracted legal proceedings. Under all the circumstances, President Ford's defeat in the 1976 election by the manifestly unqualified bumbler Jimmy Carter was probably inevitable, but still tragic. (On a personal note, I'll never forget shaking Gerald Ford's hand when he came to Houston in 1976).
After his defeat, President Ford was, in the Republican Party, politically eclipsed: he was a shade too liberal for times that called for a harder line, and the rise of Ronald Reagan and his wing of the party, at the expense of President Ford's more moderate-liberal faction was a blessing for the nation. But President Ford, with his honesty, decency and plain speaking, had just the qualities needed in 1974. Requiescet In Pace.