Tuesday, December 26, 2006

He was no Lincoln — but then, who is?

All right, whoever had 93-year-old former President Gerald Ford in the dead pool, please step forward to claim your winnings. Amazing foresight there.

Gerald R. Ford, the 38th President of these here United States, made a much better source of Jeopardy! fodder than he made a Chief Executive:
  • The first (and to date, only) President never to have been elected either to the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.

  • The first Vice President installed under the provisions of the 25th Amendment. As shocking as it sounds in today's world, in the nearly 200 years before Ford replaced the resigned-ahead-of-the-impeachment-boot Spiro Agnew, when the office of Vice President fell vacant due to death or succession, it simply remained unoccupied until the next Presidential election cycle filled the position — on occasion, as much as four years later (as in the case of our 13th Vice President, William R. King, who was terminally ill when elected and survived a mere 45 days in office). No wonder John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's longest-serving veep, referred to the job as "not worth a bucket of warm [urine, only he didn't say 'urine']."

  • The only President to hold the office under an entirely different name than the one he was given at birth. Ford was born Leslie Lynch King, Jr., but was renamed by his mother when she remarried. (Ulysses Simpson Grant was born Hiram Ulysses Grant, but he changed his name while at West Point to avoid getting teased about his initials: H.U.G. Simpson was his mother's maiden name.)

  • The only President whose parents were divorced.

  • The only President to fully pardon a disgraced predecessor who would undoubtedly have faced criminal prosecution.

  • The only President to survive two assassination attempts (by what had to be the most inept would-be assassins in the annals of crime — Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a whacked-out disciple of Charles Manson, and Patty Hearst fanatic and FBI informant Sara Jane Moore) within the space of less than three weeks.

  • The longest-lived former President, beating Ronald Reagan's record by more than a month.

  • The first Republican President to name an African American to his Cabinet (William Coleman as Transportation Secretary, one of the few jobs in Washington even more anonymous and thankless than the Vice Presidency).

  • The only human being on the planet who could have lost a Presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

  • The only President in the last 75 years never to have been Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

  • The last surviving member of the Warren Commission, and perhaps one of the last people to carry to his grave the true answer to whether there was or wasn't a second gunman in Dallas on November 22, 1963.
Gerald Ford, the former football star from the University of Michigan, became Vice President and ultimately President for one simple reason: He was a nice guy who could be counted upon to grant Richard Nixon absolute immunity when the time came for Tricky Dick to beat feet for San Clemente in the wake of the Watergate scandal. And he did.

Ford was such a nice guy, in fact, that he frequently gave free advice to the men of both parties who followed him to the Oval Office. Given what's eventuated in the administrations of those men, one might well suppose that Jerry perhaps should have kept his advice to himself.

History will not be kind to the brief Presidency of Gerald R. Ford, perhaps one of this country's greatest exemplars of the Peter Principle. But at least he was one President of whom the American electorate could honestly say, "Don't look at us — he wasn't our fault."

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