For a long time, I always considered Gerald Ford to be the least interesting among twentieth century presidents. Sure, one could argue that Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge don’t bring a lot to the table (and didn’t when they were in office, either). Harding, at least, provides a perfect study in corruption and the exact wrong way to implement the spoils system. Silent Cal, on the other hand, brought us funny exchanges such as this one:

Woman at White House dinner party: Mr. President, I have a bet with my husband that I can get you to say more than two words.

Coolidge: You lose.

But Gerald Ford seems unremarkable. How does he come off? As a career politician, but a congressman, and one with no aspirations for the White House. He appears to be a thoroughly decent guy, albeit one with a predilection for falling down stairs. He might have been the last of a certain breed – the practical, pragmatic, Rockefeller Republican. A little isolationist, but not polarizing. Ironically, his most polarizing act – the pardon of Nixon – seems to me to be his least political. Of course, it can be argued that it was nothing but political, but I truly think that Ford wanted to spare the nation the embarrassment of having a former president involved in a criminal trial. And he made the right call, at least in my opinion.

In short, Gerald Ford seems human. And maybe, in hindsight, that is what made him interesting. His presidency was not extraordinary … and that’s exactly what it needed to be. He wasn’t a sweeping reformist, he had no grand plans for the country. He restored dignity to the White House and let the nation catch its breath after the tumultuous Nixon years.

And that’s how he’ll be remembered, and there is no shame in that.

Advertisements