One of my favorite scenes from "Stripes" is when Bill Murray's girlfriend complains about how he constantly plays Tito Puente albums. Murray responds that, one of these days, "Tito Puente's gonna be dead, and you're gonna say, 'Oh, I've been listening to him for years, and I think he's fabulous.'"
In recent years, the Tito Puente effect has afflicted liberals to a stunning degree. The press corps, the liberal intellectual establishment and the Democratic Party once considered Ronald Reagan a warmongering, senile fascist. Now it's hard to find a self-described liberal to offer anything but praise. Barry Goldwater has also been Tito Puente-ized. His granddaughter's recent HBO documentary depicts him as a cuddly-wuddly live-and-let-live sort of guy. Hillary Clinton, James Carville and Al Franken all pony up testimonials about how swell the 1964 GOP nominee was. Younger readers might need to be reminded that the liberal establishment hated Goldwater with such a blinding passion that reason, decency and truthfulness were deemed luxuries his critics couldn't afford.
And now we have dear, sweet Jerry Ford. Everybody, it seems, loves Ford. Ted Kennedy even gave him a Profile in Courage Award a few years ago. But there's an interesting difference. Ford was Tito Puente-ized early. His decision to pardon Richard Nixon - the courageous act for which he later got his Profile award - elicited enormous criticism and, some argue, cost him the election in 1976. But he quickly rebounded and was never hated the way Reagan, Goldwater or Nixon were. Tricky Dick's rehabilitation will take a while longer, even though he was more liberal than any president since. As with Herbert Hoover, too much has been invested in his demonization to write it off merely for decency's sake.
I went back through old issues of National Review - no reflexive friend to moderate Republicans - trying to find examples of conservatives beating up on Ford. I couldn't find much. I undoubtedly missed some barbs, but it seems that even though Ford defeated Reagan, the conservative Golden Boy, for the 1976 nomination (and initially selected the reviled Nelson Rockefeller as his V.P.), few could muster much bile for Ford. It seemed that the serendipity, for want of a better word, of Ford's presidential ascendancy, and the burning desire to put the havoc of Vietnam and Watergate behind us, combined with his decency, inoculated him from rancor from all sides.
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