Within weeks, South Vietnam and Cambodia had fallen, and Pol Pot's holocaust had begun. By summer, tens of thousands of Vietnamese had been executed, scores of thousands put into "re-education camps," and the first of hundreds of thousands had pushed off into the South China Sea, where many drowned and others met their fate at the hands of Thai pirates.
Next, Congress went to work on the CIA, with the Pike committee and the Church committee exposing all the evil deeds the agency had done in the cause of trying to win the Cold War.
When Ford suggested that New York, the citadel of liberalism, might itself be responsible for its own bankruptcy -- by its cowardice in the face of outrageous union demands -- and it was not his duty to bail out the Big Apple, he was attacked as cruel and uncaring.
"Ford to City: Drop Dead!" ran the headline in the New York Daily News.
Whereupon Jerry Ford trooped to the rescue of New York.
By now, however, after Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos had fallen, and the Soviets were on the move in Africa, conservatives had had a bellyful of detente and its personification, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. The presence of Rockefeller a heartbeat away and the nomination of the John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court did not help.
Ronald Reagan entered the primaries and almost took the nomination. While he endorsed Ford, he declined to run with him. Yet President Ford closed a 30-point gap to 3 points against Jimmy Carter, and had he not declared Eastern Europe not under Soviet domination in one of the Ford-Carter debates, he might have won an upset to rival the 1948 comeback of Harry Truman. But it was not to be.
Gerald Ford was a non-ideological man in an ideological age, a nice man in nasty times. When he took the helm, America was as divided as she had been since the Truman-McCarthy era. When he left in 1977, America had had a unifying Bicentennial of her Declaration of Independence.
Though it was no fault of his own, Gerald Ford presided over the greatest strategic defeat in U.S. history since the loss of China under Harry Truman. And he had failed to win election in his own right.
Yet, he saw the country through an evil time, and his decency showed through throughout. He was not a great president, but the right man at the right time, who paid an unjust price for having done the right thing.
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