Gerald R. Ford #38

Gerald R. Ford, Jerry, First President to not be elected as VP or President

When Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office on August 9, 1974, he declared, “I assume the Presidency under extraordinary circumstances…. This is an hour of history that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts.”
It was indeed an unprecedented time. He had been the first Vice President chosen under the terms of the Twenty-fifth Amendment and, in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal, was succeeding the first President ever to resign.
Ford was confronted with almost insuperable tasks. There were the challenges of mastering inflation, reviving a depressed economy, solving chronic energy shortages, and trying to ensure world peace.
The President acted to curb the trend toward Government intervention and spending as a means of solving the problems of American society and the economy. In the long run, he believed, this shift would bring a better life for all Americans.
Ford’s reputation for integrity and openness had made him popular during his 25 years in Congress. From 1965 to 1973, he was House Minority Leader. Born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1913, he grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He starred on the University of Michigan football team, then went to Yale, where he served as assistant coach while earning his law degree. During World War II he attained the rank of lieutenant commander in the Navy. After the war he returned to Grand Rapids, where he began the practice of law, and entered Republican politics. A few weeks before his election to Congress in 1948, he married Elizabeth Bloomer. They have four children: Michael, John, Steven, and Susan.
As President, Ford tried to calm earlier controversies by granting former President Nixon a full pardon. His nominee for Vice President, former Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York, was the second person to fill that office by appointment. Gradually, Ford selected a cabinet of his own.
Ford established his policies during his first year in office, despite opposition from a heavily Democratic Congress. His first goal was to curb inflation. Then, when recession became the Nation’s most serious domestic problem, he shifted to measures aimed at stimulating the economy. But, still fearing inflation, Ford vetoed a number of non-military appropriations bills that would have further increased the already heavy budgetary deficit. During his first 14 months as President he vetoed 39 measures. His vetoes were usually sustained.
Ford continued as he had in his Congressional days to view himself as “a moderate in domestic affairs, a conservative in fiscal affairs, and a dyed-in-the-wool internationalist in foreign affairs.” A major goal was to help business operate more freely by reducing taxes upon it and easing the controls exercised by regulatory agencies. “We…declared our independence 200 years ago, and we are not about to lose it now to paper shufflers and computers,” he said.
In foreign affairs Ford acted vigorously to maintain U. S. power and prestige after the collapse of Cambodia and South Viet Nam. Preventing a new war in the Middle East remained a major objective; by providing aid to both Israel and Egypt, the Ford Administration helped persuade the two countries to accept an interim truce agreement. Detente with the Soviet Union continued. President Ford and Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev set new limitations upon nuclear weapons.
President Ford won the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1976, but lost the election to his Democratic opponent, former Governor Jimmy Carter of Georgia.
On Inauguration Day, President Carter began his speech: “For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.” A grateful people concurred.
The airborne terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the thwarted flight against the White House or Capitol on September 11, 2001, in which nearly 3,000 Americans were killed, transformed George W. Bush into a wartime president. The attacks put on hold many of Bush’s hopes and plans, and Bush’s father, George Bush, the 41st president, declared that his son “faced the greatest challenge of any president since Abraham Lincoln.”
In response, Bush formed a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security, sent American forces into Afghanistan to break up the Taliban, a movement under Osama bin Laden that trained financed and exported terrorist teams. The Taliban was successfully disrupted but Bin Laden was not captured and was still on the loose as Bush began his second term. Following the attacks, the president also recast the nation’s intelligence gathering and analysis services, and ordered reform of the military forces to meet the new enemy. At the same time he delivered major tax cuts which had been a campaign pledge. His most controversial act was the invasion of Iraq on the belief that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein posed a grave threat to the United States. Saddam was captured, but the disruption of Iraq and the killing of American servicemen and friendly Iraqis by insurgents became the challenge of Bush’s government as he began his second term. President Bush pledged during his 2005 State of the Union Address that the United States would help the Iraqi people establish a fully democratic government because the victory of freedom in Iraq would strengthen a new ally in the war on terror, bring hope to a troubled region, and lift a threat from the lives of future generations.
Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut while his father was attending Yale University after service in World War II. The family moved to Midland, Texas, where the senior Bush entered the oil exploration business. The son spent formative years there, attended Midland public schools, and formed friendships that stayed with him into the White House. Bush graduated from Yale, received a business degree from Harvard, and then returned to Midland where he too got into the oil business. In Midland he met and married Laura Welch, a teacher and librarian. They had twin daughters, Jenna and Barbara, now out of college and pursuing careers.
When George W. Bush, at the age of 54, became the 43rd president of the United States, it was only the second time in American history that a president’s son went on to the White House. John Quincy Adams, elected the sixth president in 1824, was the son of John Adams, the second president. While John Adams had groomed his son to be president, George Bush, the 41st president, insisted he was surprised when the eldest of his six children became interested in politics, became governor of Texas, and then went on to the White House.
During the early part of the 2000 campaign for the White House, Bush enjoyed a double-digit lead in the polls over his opponent Vice President Al Gore Jr. But the gap closed as the election approached and though Gore finally won the popular vote by 543,895 votes, victory or loss of the presidency hinged on Florida’s electoral votes. That struggle through recounts and lawsuits worked its way to the Supreme Court. In the end Bush won the electoral count 271 to 266. His new administration was focused on “compassionate conservatism,” which embraced excellence in education, tax relief and volunteerism among faith-based and community organizations.
Bush was challenged in his re-election bid in 2004 by Massachusetts Democratic Senator John Kerry. The election was a good contest, but Bush’s contention that the invasion of Iraq had made the world more secure against terrorism won the national political debate. Bush was re-elected with 51 percent to 48 percent.
On the inaugural stand, George W. Bush set the theme for his second term: “At this second gathering, our duties are defined not by the words I use, but by the history we have seen together. For half a century, America defended our own freedom by standing watch on distant borders. After the shipwreck of communism came years of relative quiet- and then there came a day of fire. There is only one force of history that can break the reign of hatred and resentment, and expose the pretensions of tyrants, and reward the hopes of the decent and tolerant, and that is the force of human freedom – tested but not weary… we are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom.”
The Presidential biographies on WhiteHouse.gov are from “The Presidents of the United States of America,” by Frank Freidel  and Hugh Sidey. Copyright 2006 by the White House Historical Association.

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