Ford did not succeed in turning that around instantly. But he put into place policies that in time directed those trajectories upward. His negotiations with the Soviet Union and our European allies produced the Helsinki Accords, which ratified the status quo in Eastern Europe but also contained human-rights provisions that in the 1980s helped to delegitimize the Soviet empire.
Ford was forced to accept the communist victory in Vietnam (because Congress would not fund aid promised to our allies), but was able to respond vigorously to the attack on the Mayaguez. At home, he moved toward policies to tamp down inflation and to start the deregulation of transportation and communications, which vastly increased the productivity and resilience of the American economy.
Politically, Ford was written off as a failure. He nearly lost the 1976 Republican nomination to Ronald Reagan, and he lost the general election to Jimmy Carter. The Reagan challenge -- and Ford's own dumping of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller -- showed that the Republican Party was shifting to the right, away from the postwar consensus. But Ford's rally in the general election, from 25 points behind in the polls to only a 50 percent to 48 percent defeat, showed that the Republican Party had greater residual strength in the wake of the collapse of the postwar consensus than most people thought.
Ford was ridiculed as a bumbler, though he was a gifted athlete, and was dismissed as a lightweight, though he entered the White House with a considerable command of foreign and domestic policy. He healed the nation and, more importantly, proved that it was possible to get America off its downward trajectory and heading upward again, as it did in the 1980s. Something to remember in these pessimistic times.
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