The Common Good

Duane Shank: Politicizing Ford's Passing?

Judging from your comments, my piece on the passing of former president Gerald Ford seems to have rubbed some people on both sides the wrong way. Some think that by contrasting his decency and honesty to the current administration I don't realize "how rude it is to politicize someone's passing." And, comparing one Republican president to another somehow made me partisan. Then there are some who thought his pardoning of Richard Nixon was wrong and apparently wanted more criticism of Ford.

For the record, I think the news headlines these past few days, referring to his "legacy of honor," "legacy of healing," - and the editorials, "Ford and forgiveness," "reconciler-in-chief," "profile in decency," etc. are symbolic of a real yearning in the country for those qualities. Our current situation is so polarized that the decency, integrity, and honesty of President Ford, for which he is and should be remembered and honored, are seen as unusual. There are not many politicians today, of either party, who can claim those attributes.

In yesterday's Chicago Tribune, a piece by senior correspondent William Neikirk concluded, after talking with friends and associates of President Ford, along with political analysts from both parties, that "a moderate conservative like Ford would have a hard time governing in today's harsh political climate where both parties seem at each other's throats, analysts said.
In the recent midterm elections, voters appeared to send a message that they were fed up with divisiveness in Washington. As a result, politicians with some of Ford's abilities for bridging the partisan divide could find greater support than once believed."

The political world in Washington has become so bitter that simple friendships between Members of Congress of different parties are almost non-existent. President Ford belonged to an earlier era where there could be vigorous disagreements, but still strong friendships across the aisle. A story in today's New York Times told how "As he helped in recent years arrange the details of his own funeral, Gerald R. Ford reached out to an old adversary: Jimmy Carter , who defeated him for the presidency in 1976. Skip to next paragraph Mr. Ford asked whether his successor might consider speaking at his funeral and offered, lightheartedly, to do the same for Mr. Carter, depending on who died first."

And as for politicizing his passing, it's interesting that Ford himself gave two interviews in which he was strongly critical of the current administration, but stipulated that they be embargoed until his death. Seems to me that in doing so he politicized his own passing. In the Washington Post, Bob Woodward recounts: "Rumsfeld and Cheney and the president made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq. They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction," Ford said. "And now, I've never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do."

As the weekend of his lying in state is about to begin here in Washington, I honor the memory of a good and decent man. His wife, four children, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren are in my prayers.

Duane Shank is senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.

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