Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Alternative View of Ford

Christopher Hitchens departs from the more polite tone of Peggy Noonan and Fred Barnes in remembering the Ford Administration. Contra Hitchens, I think Ford was ultimately correct to pardon Nixon. However, I think Hitchens is correct in condemning Ford for not meeting with Solzhenitsyn.

Ford was a Rockefeller Republican or, as Fred Barnes called him on FoxNews, a "Midwestern Republican". These are terms you hardly hear anymore because the species they describe are extinct -- or nearly so. (In fact, Ford elevated Nelson Rockefeller to the vice presidency.) This was the seemingly more moderate but really less principled wing of the GOP that Reagan marginalized in 1980, and that basically gasped its last breath when George H.W. Bush lost to Bill Clinton in 1992. The species died out for the reason that Barnes states: "Ford, with Henry Kissinger as his Secretary of State, championed d├ętente with the Soviet Union and its bulging empire. Reagan rejected co-existence and pursued victory in the Cold War as his goal, and he achieved it." Or, as Noonan puts it, "[Ford] did not fully appreciate the public desire for a fresher, more candid attitude toward the Soviet Union, and communism in general."

One thing I'll add is that Ford didn't fully restore confidence in the Presidency, as many of his obituaries have indicated. Up until the end of the Carter administration, many observers, including Washington lawyer Lloyd Cutler, wondered whether one person could do the job. Not until Reagan took office did those questions abate.

Update 12/31 -- During the state funeral yesterday, Bill Kristol mentioned on FoxNews that it's impressive how few presidents we've had, how stable the country has been, and how the ceremony we devote to each president's death is appropriate. He also noted that our system of separation of powers, unlike parliamentary systems, makes the president the only representative of all the people. There's something to this, but I wonder if it's closer to the progressive view of things, which strangely wanted more of a parliamentary system. The president is supposed to represent the country in foreign policy, where divisions could be crippling, but I'm not sure about this with regard to domestic matters, where the president is supposed to be more of a check against the people's representatives than a representative himself.

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