Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Presidents Ford and Reagan

Excellent piece at NRO by Paul Kengor. I wonder what would have transpired had Ronald Reagan won the 1976 GOP nomination? We may have been spared the idiocy of Jimmy Carter.
On the day after Christmas 2006, 30 years after he lost his only presidential bid, Gerald R. Ford, the nation’s 38th president, was called home. At age 93 and five months, he was the longest-living president, outlasting Ronald Reagan, who died at 93 and four months.

The Ford-Reagan link in death is both appropriate and ironic, given the deep and intertwined history the two Republican presidents share.

It was the Gerald Ford/Ronald Reagan relationship of 1975-76 that provided the ultimate contrast between the two one-time rivals, and that defined Ford’s presidency, both in policy and in style.

Disgruntled with Ford’s pursuit of détente with the Soviets, Ronald Reagan in 1975 decided to seek the seemingly impossible: to challenge the incumbent president from his own party, thereby breaking Reagan’s own “Eleventh Commandment:” “Thou Shall Not Speak Ill of Another Republican.”

Reagan fired unceasingly at Ford’s support of détente. “We are blind to reality if we refuse to recognize that détente’s usefulness to the Soviets is only as a cover for their traditional and basic strategy for aggression,” he said in October 1975. “Détente is for the Soviet Union a no-can-lose proposition.”


The Ford-Reagan relationship in the 1970s was a metaphor for Ford’s presidency: His policy toward the Soviets was flawed, and he was neither a notably effective nor inspiring president, but his kindness as a person was hard to surpass.

Gerald Ford’s contribution to history came in his service as a transitional figure, one who no doubt helped heal a divided nation during a critical post-Watergate period, which he achieved through that gentle demeanor. Quite unintentionally, he made another contribution: like Jimmy Carter, he offered an example of what not to do in Cold War policy. By giving détente a chance, and thus an opportunity to show its true colors, he unwittingly revealed it to be a failed route, paving the way for Ronald Reagan to be successful not in 1976 but in 1980, and thereby allowing Reagan to later make a much deeper impact on history.

More on Ford by Larry Kudlow.

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