Last October, when I had a week of vacation, my wife Kathleen, my son Jim, and I took a day trip up to Grand Rapids to visit the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. We came away with a new respect for the nation's only unelected president. Kathleen and I had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976. We had both been angered when Ford had pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974. But we were reminded that this was a very decent man who came into office in extremely difficult circumstances.
I'm afraid I bought into myth of Ford as a not-so-bright guy--not so much from the Saturday Night Live routines about his supposed klutziness, but Lyndon Johnson's quip that he had played too much football without a helmet. And the only time we ever saw Ford, he was on the floor of the House, arguing against letting strikers get food stamps.
But the Ford we saw and heard at the museum was remarkably thoughtful and compassionate. Of course the museum isn't likely to show Ford in a bad light, but its curators had the integrity to include letters, both angry and reasoned, opposing Ford's Pardon of Nixon. And the recreation of the Cabinet room had an interesting interactive program which invited visitors to make decisions about major issues during Ford's presidency. We watched the video about New York's financial crisis. Yes, I voted to bail out New York, which Ford didn't do. New York survived and prospered in spite, or perhaps because of Ford's "tough love" approach.
The museum also pointed out that Ford was an internationalist, and a protege of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, also of Grand Rapids. Vandenberg's support for the Marshall Plan was critical to its passage.
The museum is certainly worth the modest admission fee. It's closed right now, of course, as its curators prepare for Ford's funeral.
I don't regret my vote for Carter in 1976, but I do respect the man he defeated.