Sunday, December 2, 2018

2006 flashback: "People, it's just Gerald Ford"

Lamentations over the Death of the First-Born of Egypt, by Charles Sprague Pearce (Smithsonian American Art Museum)

     Maybe I'm getting old. 
     That thought crossed my mind as I was lecturing someone on Facebook Saturday. He had posted a photo of George H. W. Bush throwing up in the Prime Minister of Japan's lap, after falling ill at a banquet. "Really?" I asked, sincerely miffed. The man had died 12 hours earlier.
     We lose perspective, and have to spin our spin constantly, like dervishes. Bush was a blue blood and a former CIA director and didn't snap to the AIDS crisis, and those flaws have to be pushed forward, lest we consider anybody respected, anybody admirable, anybody beyond reproach, as if any of us could have done better.

     I can't really get behind that. It's Trumpspeak. Our current president needs to portray everyone as suspect, everyone as guilty, everyone as bad as he is, to mask his own inadequacy. He can't be truly loathsome is everyone else is loathsome too. 
    Untrue. Everyone is not the same. Yes, we all succeed in some ways and fail at others. But some do better. George H.W. Bush wasn't perfect but he wasn't Donald Trump either, not by a long shot, and that is why his passing is causing more commotion than it might otherwise. Genuine affection. Real respect. To the man, not the office. Wednesday is a national day of mourning for George H.W. Bush. He will lie in state at the Capitol Rotunda beginning tomorrow, the first former president to do so since Gerald Ford did it, a dozen years ago.
     Gerald Ford, Gerald Ford...that brings back a memory. When he died, in 2006, the media also went all solemn. They also closed the markets, as they're doing for Bush  Wednesday. Back then, it struck me as overblown and ludicrous, and I wrote the following protest. Now, doing so seems not-quite-so-ludicrous. Maybe Bush was a better president than Gerald Ford. Maybe his example of dignity, the Japanese prime minister notwithstanding, and adherence to American values is something we need to go out of our ways to honor in the age of Trump. To remind ourselves what we were and what we might become again, if our nation is not already irredeemably poisoned. 
     Or maybe I'm just getting old. 

     Tell me I'm not alone here. Please. Tell me that, like me, you were slightly taken aback to wake up Tuesday and find it a national day of mourning, with the markets closed and mail delivery suspended.
     All for Jerry Ford.
     Don't get me wrong. Good guy, Ford. Served his moment on the world stage well, or well enough. Deserving of our respect.
     But c'mon! The man was 93. A ripe old age. I'd sign up for 93 right now, and so would you. All these ceremonies—seven full days of tribute and prayer, pomp and circumstance. And this is the stripped-down version, supposedly, streamlined at Ford's request. I'd hate to see what they would have done otherwise—flown in the pope, tolled the Liberty Bell, dressed George W. Bush in sackcloth and ashes.
     This is un-American, this groveling at the feet of lost kings, and I blame Princess Di—her funeral left us, like the Victorians, addicted to cemeterial splendor. Votive candles flickering in the rain and black crepe, pipe organ dirges and riderless horses. I wouldn't be surprised if they raise an obelisk to Ford, surrounded by statues of veiled ladies, sprawled with grief and labeled "Sorrow" and "Loss" and such.
     Let's not even go into the grim specifics—George H.W. Bush telling mourners how Almighty God spared Ford in World War II so he could eventually lead this nation. (A bad road to go down, since it raises the question of why couldn't the Lord also have had pity on the 50 million or so who perished in World War II while He was mucking about in human affairs, looking out for Jerry Ford.)
     The presidency is worthy of respect. But this is beyond respect and into pageant and excess. I kept thinking: Geez, don't spend it all, every time. You need to hold back a bit, sometimes. Maybe it's the media's fault. TV took what are in essence private moments—the movement of the casket—and made them into public display.
     If we do this for Ford, dead at age 93, what'll we do for the next Lincoln?
                    —Originally published in the Sun-Times, Jan. 3, 2007

18 comments:

  1. Nobody's perfect. As Herr Kant had it, "From the crooked timber of mankind nothing straight was ever made."

    Yes you're getting old, but sometimes older is wiser. The 2007 column was a touch iconoclastic, but I liked it.

    Tom

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  2. Ford wasn't president long enough to make much of an impression, but his route of ascension to the presidency was unique, and proved that the American hierarchical system can work. Think about the fact that Ford was never elected as president or vice president, and that our government didn't miss a beat when Nixon resigned. Disassemble the parts and you find a man who was appointed to the presidency. In hindsight, could a better man have been chosen?

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    1. Had a better man been chosen, he would have allowed due process to mete out the punishment Dick Nixon deserved and perhaps it would have dissuaded a bigger crook from running 44 years later.

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    2. Doubtful it would have dissuaded Trump. He never planned to win.

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  3. I like to say I was born a Jew, a Cub fan, and a Democrat. My parents were teens during the Depression and became FDR-Truman-Stevenson Democrats, with a touch of pink. I even listened to records that came by mail from the Children's Record Guild, an outfit that made the subversive organizations list in the McCarthy era (The blacklisted Pete Seeger recorded under their label, singing about trains and zoos). I have never voted for a Republican in my life.

    And yet, I would have voted for Gerald Ford in '76, had he not pardoned Nixon. I was young and foolish and shortsighted enough to vote for Eugene McCarthy instead. Gerald Ford did the right thing. A trial and a prison sentence would have divided Americans even further. Our 38th president was a decent man who tried his best to heal the country after Watergate, and I liked him very much.

    So that's why he is on the short list of the most favorite presidents in my lifetime (Truman and Obama are the other two). I was actually sorry when he lost, and I would have voted for him had he chosen to run again. But I would probably have kept that a secret from all my left-of-center family and friends.

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    1. Grizz, have you been to Ford's museum in Grand Rapids? Well worth your time.

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    2. Not yet, but it's on my bucket list. Age and finances have really cut down on the road trips. We used to shlep all over the East and the Midwest and occasionally down South. Not so much the last few years, although we did get to Carbondale for the eclipse. But I have made two visits to Truman's library and museum in Independence, as well as the house he lived in for many years. Reminded me of my own rented house in northern Illinois in the early Seventies, post-college.

      Harry and Bess were never really all that well-off, and the almost Spartan decor immediately makes that clear. Still, their home feels so...well...perhaps "homey" is the right word for it. Truman was neither ostentatious nor pretentious, just a plain and modest man from humble Missouri origins...and I loved him for it. Harry loved his study and his porch and the streets of his hometown, and he thought of his D.C. living quarters as "The Great White Jail"...

      Ford had the same kind of beginnings while growing up in Grand Rapids, and I am sure I would enjoy his museum, and his early home, if that is available for visiting. I admire both Ford and Truman because I detest flamboyance, glitz, and affectations of grandiosity. Imagine the way I feel about the pompous ass who is now the current occupant of the office these two honorable men once held.

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    3. We visited Truman's museum and his home in July, this year. Well worth the trip. We then drove another 150 miles west to see Ike's museum. It was closed for renovations. There were some exhibits in the library, but overall, a disappointment. In the past few years we've also visited the museums of Ford, Hoover, JFK, FDR, and Lincoln. Roosevelt's museum tops my list of favorites and it's Eleanor that puts it there.

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  4. Considering the boastful dunce who now occupies the Oval Office, George H.W. Bush and Ford deserve the highest pomp and circumstance. Each carried out the duties of the office with honor and dignity. R.I.P.G.H.W.B.









    Considering the vain dunce who now occupies the Oval Office, both Ford and George H.S. Bush deserve the highest pomp and circumstance. Both did his best to honor the Presidency and carry out the duties of the office, sans puffery and lies. R.I.P.G.H.W.B.












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  5. You're not alone. I'm a dyed in the wool bleeding heart liberal and don't have much good to say about Mr. Bush the president, but I think he was a fundamentally decent man with whom I just disagreed with about almost everything.

    Coloring his thoughts on his passing is that I - like him - am a Yankee who has made Houston his home. George and Barbara Bush were exemplars of how wealthy, and powerful people should behave in their final years, and they were both loved in Houston because of it. They were huge supporter of causes from cancer research to hurricane recovery. They also treated Houston as a hometown, not an address of convenience, regularly seen dining out around town at all kinds of places. And of course there was Mrs Bush's literacy efforts, tangible for all of us who patronize the city library system.

    He was a great benefactor to our great city, and deserves to be appreciated for that.

    He was a better man than president, and in comparison to his peers in the presidency, not bad. I could write a lot about things that were very wrong in his time in office, but what's the point? The only thing that seems appropriate is rest in peace, and condolences to his family. Houston will certainly miss him.

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  6. The thing that strikes me most about Ford is that, while being probably the most innocuous empty suit ever to occupy the office of POTUS, he was the target of two assassination attempts, one of which came within a pistol-cocking of succeeding. And Reagan, the most (inexplicably, to me) beloved of modern Presidents, actually stopped a bullet. While Obama and Clinton, who inspired enough seething hatred to power a small city, never came close to being killed. To me this shows that 1) assassinations truly are random events and 2) Presidential security has improved considerably.

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    1. They probably came close to being killed...but you and I don't know about it. Nor does the rest of the populace. There had to be at least a few credible threats on the lives of Clinton and Obama that were stopped before they could be carried out. But these attempts are never made public, in order to thwart the efforts of copycats who might do a better job, or get lucky, or who might just be clever enough to succeed.

      One POTUS even said something like "If someone wants to get me, they probably will." It was JFK. We will never know how many near-misses there have actually been, and against whom, because nobody is going to tell us. Sara Jane and Squeaky were bunglers, and Reagan was just plain lucky. Had he not survived, we would have had Bush a lot sooner, and perhaps for a lot longer, and history would have been very different.

      I was just as mystified by the Reagan worship. His funeral was probably the most over-the-top for any former POTUS. At least the services for Bush, as they were for Ford, will be far less histrionic, since neither one was a former actor giving his final performance..

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    2. I just realized that I have no memory of Nixon's funeral. It must have been forgettable or ignorable. I suppose that's apt.

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    3. Both Nixon nor Truman did not want any ceremonies in D.C. So there was no lying-in-state for either one. Nor did they have elaborate funerals. Other than their histories (both being former senators, vice-presidents, and presidents), that was one of the few things they had in common. They also shared a mutual antipathy--each one despised the other.

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  7. It is true that God saved Gerald Ford so he could replace Nixon. What is less well known is that God started the war so all the real ballplayers would go off to war and Pete Grey, a one armed outfielder could make the Majors. Feeling remorse for that, he now intercedes so dipshits like Bryce Harper can hit home runs.

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    1. I think it was Gray, not Grey, but regardless of how he spelled it, my mother saw him play at a White Sox-Browns contest.She did clerical work at a factory on Lake Street while my father was in the Army. The bosses treated all their employees to a night game at Comiskey Park. It was the only major-league baseball game she ever attended during her lifetime. Go figure, huh?

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  8. In your Ford column, you write that the television media took private moments and turned them into public display. That was eleven years ago. Today it’s morphed into i entertainment television, replete with dramatic, mournful music, grief graphics and staged solemnity.. It’s either tremendously annoying or somewhat comical at times, depending on your perspective. If want to see the proceedings I’ll turn to CSPAN so at least I’m spared the hyperbolic elements and pundits trying to outdo each other with superlatives for the deceased.

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    1. I turned to C-SPAN for the coverage of McCain's funeral last summer. Their "lack of yack" worked for me...and I'll be doing the same for Bush 41.

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