Now that the bunting is down, the crowds have dissipated and the ceremonials are over, what are we to make of the legacy of Gerald R. Ford and the media blitz surrounding his funeral.
Taking the easier question first, the media coverage was, to say the least, extensive. While I would not go as far as Chicago Sun-Times columnist Neil Steinberg in saying that it deserved little or no coverage or observance at all, I would say that equal time needed to be given to all parts of the Ford legacy.
For example, Ford seemed all too willing to bow to wonderful dictators like Pinochet and the Shah of Iran (under the tutelage of Henry Kissinger, no doubt). While this can be said of all presidents (that they deal with people that do not exactly fit our picture of a just and fair leader), Ford did not break the chain. And, as the Guardian points out, Ford can also be seen to be complicit in the East Timor massacre in 1975.
On the positive side, after years of complex, difficult men in the White House (namely Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon), America needed a boring guy from Michigan to calm things down a little. His pardon of Nixon was the supreme act of political self-sacrifice and quelled a potential constitutional crisis of epic proportions.
This was all mentioned in the hours of coverage spanning six entire days.
Then I got to speculating.
I remembered that, during the 1980 presidential election, George H.W. Bush was not Ronald Reagan's first choice for the office of vice president. Care to guess who it was?
Yes, the aforementioned boring guy from Michigan.
During the 198o Republican Convention, when it was sure that Reagan would get the nod, the search for the veep candidate was on. Reagan's first inclination was to offer the job to Ford. Read a reminiscence of the event by a reporter for the Nashville Tennessean here. The deal could not be struck, unfortunately, and the job was given to former CIA director George H.W. Bush.
Here is my speculation. Had Gerald Ford been given the vice presidency in 1980, the political fortunes of the Bush family would have been dealt a significant blow, perhaps even a death blow. G.H.W. Bush perhaps would have ran for the presidency in 1988, but he would have been an obscure figure from years before instead of the vice president of one of the most popular presidents of the 20th century.
With this scenario of a lessened impact of the Bush family on national politics, one naturally extends it to our current president. Given the above scenario, I think that it is entirely possible that he would have never been governor of Texas and certainly not president.
I know that such speculation about the course of history is dangerous and not advised for historians such as myself. But still...
"Check the Box Sunday"
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