Thursday, December 28, 2006

"A Ford, Not a Lincoln"

Gerald Ford said, famously, that he was "a Ford, not a Lincoln".

Perhaps Ford was just a Ford, but in all the glow that is currently accompanying his death this week, Ford's luster is looking pretty upscale.

I saw President Ford speak in Dallas. I drove to the see Ford alone in my parent's Colony Park station wagon, a Mercury, which is, by the way, an upscale Ford. I was 18 years old. As a teenager, I was appalled at pork barrel spending, and I applauded Ford for holding the record for vetoing so many of the Congress' pork-laden bills.

Nixon had been a dark, dark Dodge, and I liked Ford's straightforward, midwestern voice. And I liked his pipe. As I was growing up, my father smoked a pipe, and so to me that pipe was a graceful symbol of purpose and resolve, of authority and command.

All during the summer of 1974, when I was 16, I'd watched the Watergate hearings transfixed. Those hearings had a lot to do with instilling in me a lifelong fascination with presidential power and Washington wrangling. And Ford was no where to be seen, so he was untainted and truly new when he so suddenly took over the oval office. From dark Dodge to true blue Ford.

But if Gerald Ford really was just a Ford, who was the Lincoln? Well, Lincoln, of course. But there were some other Lincoln presidents as well. Johnson drove Lincolns. You can still see them at his ranch in Texas. But Johnson was really more of an SUV kind of guy. And the current president, also from Texas, is a pick up kind of guy, probably a cheap Chevy with no rear view mirror running on three cylinders.

Though he was killed in a Lincoln, John Kennedy might have been a silvery Chrysler convertible. And His Hollywood Holiness, Mr. Majesty Goes Primetime, Ronald Reagan? No humble 'man of mainstreet' there: flags on the fenders Cadillac limo all the way. Clinton, another Ford man, but his baby was a sky blue Mustang, and well, you know the rest. Which brings us back to the point about Ford. He didn't ask for the job. He didn't glorify the job. He might have worked the room, somewhat, by telephone mostly, but he didn't play the field or play to the people. And his self-esteem and genuine family values transcended the trappings of power and of those wranglings in Washington, mostly played out to keep power. He let it go. He brought workmanship and humility to the great sacrifices and deeper duties of public service.

Gerald Ford was a servant. Even that sounds old-fashioned now.

Too bad. I'm missing his leaden yet clear and capable speech, his workmanlike yet resolute delivery. And I miss the pipe.


At 1/02/2007 11:08 AM, Anonymous Robert J. said...

They keep mentioning that Ford will be remembered for "healing the nation" and for his "integrity". What does this say about presidents before and since?

At 1/02/2007 11:44 AM, Blogger Lawrence said...

As for today's eulogies, I'd say G.H.W. Bush and Tom Brokaw rose to the occasion well and with laughter. Kissinger was a shadowy fossil of bygone mirrors. Why stick him in there? Not a statesman but a relic. And Shrub Bush's eulogy was so distant and generic, it seemed a brush off of times during which he wasn't sober, a stammering Nixon, not a Ford. He shouldn't have even gotten his driver's license, much less a limo and the keys to the oval office.


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