Thoughts on Two Deaths
January 1, 2007
Two well-known men have died since our last issue. One died peacefully after a long life of public service. The other received justice at the end of a hangman's rope after murdering tens of thousands.
Gerald Ford was a decent man. Although he served both as Vice-President and President of the United States, he was not elected to either post. He is remembered today as one of the most honest, least political presidents who ever served our nation.
Saddam Hussein was the antithesis of a decent man. He was a brutal butcher who derived pleasure from rape, torture and murder. I cannot think of any man in recent times that more richly deserved execution.
After being sentenced to death, Saddam asked that he be treated as a head of state in his execution. He wanted to be dispatched by a firing squad, not hanged "like a common criminal." It is fitting that Iraqi officials denied this request, because although not common, Saddam was decidedly criminal.
The Iraqis made another good decision when they refused to let appeals continue for decades as we do in this country. In an article published two months ago ("They'd Better Do it Quickly") I closed with this: "Mark these words. If Saddam is not executed swiftly, before plans can be made to capitalize on his execution, many innocent Iraqis and US troops will die. There is no need for appeals. Saddam has confessed. A democratically elected government has appointed judges who have listened to twelve months of testimony. Saddam has been pronounced guilty and sentenced to hang. There is nothing to be gained by the Iraqis delaying Saddam's execution, and grave danger if they do."
Hopefully, without the threat of Saddam somehow escaping justice and once again causing death and destruction in Iraq, that country can move on and begin the process of healing.
Gerald Ford did much to heal our nation in a period of great turmoil. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the resignation in disgrace of Richard Nixon, the United States was in a precarious state. Ford kept a steady hand on the rudder of the ship of state. His leadership, his honesty and his decency helped keep the nation together during one of its most difficult times.
Ford was one of very few presidents who never aspired to the presidency. Nixon appointed him vice president when allegations of corruption forced Spiro Agnew to resign. Less than a year later Nixon himself resigned, leaving Ford in an office to which he had not been elected.
Ford understood that, not having been elected president, Americans might feel that he had something to prove. A humble man, he used self-deprecating humor to dampen expectations. During his inauguration, he uttered the famous phrase, "I'm a Ford, not a Lincoln."
Being a president without a mandate could have been a huge disadvantage to Ford. He turned it into an advantage by making it clear that since no special interests had put him into office, he owed his allegiance only to the Constitution and to the American people.
This is not to say that Ford was not a politician. He had served for many years in the Congress, and knew his way around the Capitol. But he was not a contentious politician in the manner of Teddy Kennedy, always creating controversy and trying to advance himself. He quietly served first his constituency and then his country.
Ford also understood the meaning of the phrase "public servant", something which the self-serving Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton have never grasped. Ford understood that it was about the Republic. Carter and Clinton still believe it is about them. That's why they continue to think (mistakenly) that they are still relevant, and keep running around the world attempting to undermine the foreign policy of the United States.
Ford understood that he was a public servant and that his term was over. He continued to serve by retiring in dignity and not by trying to leverage his position as a former chief of state. In his thirty years as a former president (longer than any president after leaving office) he lived quietly, enjoying his wife and family. As a result, he is remembered today more fondly than most former presidents.
Although he was a Republican, Ford did little to decrease the size of government or lower the high taxes that burden Americans. Since he was not beholden to any special interests and re-election was not a priority for him, he had a great opportunity to do good for his country in these ways. Perhaps he failed to do so because he felt the problems of the nation were so great that he needed to have the goodwill of Democrats, who would have fought bitterly any attempts at lowering taxes or reducing the bloated bureaucracy of government.
The very small Former Presidents Club has lost one of its most decent members. President Ford and the first President Bush did what former presidents are supposed to do. They engaged in good works and kept out of politics and foreign policy. In other words, they let the sitting President be President. The other living former presidents, Carter and Clinton, have disgraced the Office of the President and tarnished their already damaged reputations by meddling in domestic politics and foreign policy. They would do well to learn a lesson from Gerald Ford, and live out their days in dignity.
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