Gerald Ford is dead. People of my precise demographic slice will remember him as a vague collection of impressions, beginning with WIN buttons and ending with Chevy Chase’s pratfalls. Sentenced by fate to clean up after Richard Nixon, he did a good enough job that few people remember him with bitterness (even though he survived two — two! — assassination attempts), but not good enough that he could be reelected. Here’s another fleeting memory: Jimmy Carter calling for a round of applause, in his inauguration speech, for the man who did so much to “heal our land.” I recall Ford seemed uncomfortable with this Hollywood-like moment, even as he stood up and acknowledged the applause.
I was stunned to see he was 93. Didn’t he play football at Michigan? That would seem to place him in the leather-helmet era of the game, but maybe not.
This is probably a reflection of where my head was at the time, but I mainly remember Jerry Ford for his family. After the Nixon robo-daughters, the Fords were a family any American teenager could like. One son was a struggling actor. (Look for him as one of the president’s Secret Service agents in “Escape From New York” — he’s the blonde.) A daughter, Susan, was briefly touted as a Major Babe, a Republican Kennedy, then sort of resigned from the job. She made a commercial for Subaru in which she had to sing three words — Ford drives Subaru — and couldn’t stay on key, but was cute about it. It only now occurs to me how this must have stabbed the other Ford family, back home in the president’s native state, right in the heart; a Michigan politician’s daughter pimping an import! Heresy!
And then there was Betty, who had her own problems, although we didn’t find out about them until after her husband left office. She was a good egg, though, pulling up her socks and becoming the public face of alcoholism. It needed a public face, right about the time we were turning from Foster Brooks and Crazy Guggenheim to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and an ex-president’s wife would do nicely.
Of the president, I simply wasn’t paying attention. There was the Nixon pardon, Whip Inflation Now and…well, what can i say? I was a teenager. I was paying attention to other things.
I’m struck by this passage in his obituary, noting he was “a man of the center. He was an internationalist in foreign affairs, a moderate on civil rights and social questions and a conservative on fiscal matters.”
And this was a Republican. (Amusingly, his position in football? Center.) They didn’t make ’em like that for a long time, although the model seems to be making a comeback. Have you driven a Ford lately?