“Where Have You Gone Gerald Ford?”

In the 19ford_nixon68 song “Mrs. Robinson,” Paul Simon asks and declares “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.” The next line follows with Mrs. Robinson’s reply, “Joltin Joe” has left and gone away…” In the craziness that was the 1960’s Simon was wondering where the heroes of the past had gone. On the one week anniversary of the shooting in Newtown Connecticut, amid discussions regarding the silence of Republican Congressional leaders to that evil act , I asked a similar question, “where have you gone Gerald Ford?” As with “Joltin Joe,” Gerald has left and gone away.

I was reminded of the former President and Republican House leader, because his party and the caucus he once led lacks a leader with his courage and conviction. As the only man ever to rise to the Presidency via the resignation of his predecessor, and as Ford also followed the only Vice President to resign, he became President without having won a national election. One month after becoming President, one of the first decisions Ford made as President was to offer President Nixon a pardon for any crimes he committed or “may have committed” as President, relating to the Watergate scandal that brought down his presidency.

President Ford said he offered the pardon because he saw it as the only way for the country to move forward and beyond the “national nightmare” and constitutional crisis that was the Watergate scandal. Ford’s decision was controversial as many saw it as a part of a deal he made with Nixon prior to being nominated to take over as Vice President following Spiro Agnew’s resignation, or part of a deal Nixon made with him before he resigned as President. Others criticized Ford claiming the pardon kept the full truth behind the Watergate scandal, and other possible instances of Nixon abusing his power, from being revealed.

Two years after the pardon, Gerald Ford lost one of the closest Presidential elections up to that time to Jimmy Carter. Many believe the pardon played a major role in his 1976 defeat. Ford later agreed that it did have an impact and probably cost him the election. Despite the fact that this decision played a major if not primary role in his defeat, President Ford said he would have done it again, as he still believed it was the right thing to do and was in the best interests of the country. The John F Kennedy Library Foundation awarded President Ford the 2001 Profile in Courage Award, in part for his showing courage in making the decision to offer the pardon.

The day the NRA held their “press conference” to address the Connecticut shooting,  former Republican Congressman, and NRA member Joe Scarborough stated on his show “Morning Joe,” that he had been asking, even pleading, for Republican House leaders to come on the show to address the shooting and conversations about legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips. Despite his repeated invitations and requests, no House leaders would appear until after the NRA had their press conference regarding the shooting and potential legislation.

One Republican representative who was on the show to discuss another issue repeatedly “danced a little side step” in refusing to directly answer the question put to him regarding potential assault weapon legislation.  What struck me as most disheartening was not necessarily the opinions of the congressional leaders, but the lack of courage to speak about the issue prior the NRA.  In their silence one can see House Republicans doing the political calculus of popular outrage over the shooting and calls for one of the steps to address the violent gun culture to be legislation banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition, vs. the money and primary endorsement power of the NRA in future elections.

While I have my opinion on the issue it was the deference given to the lobbying organization that bothered me most. The Speaker of the House of Representatives, the second most important elected official in the nation, and other leaders in the House of Representatives, elected and given the responsibility and privilege of leadership in the government of the United States were waiting on a lobbying body to address an issue before they would go on record.

Where Gerald Ford acted in a way that he thought was best for the nation above what was best for his political career and re-election, not one Republican congressional leader or member was willing to even talk about an event that had deeply wounded the spirit of the nation and a potential legislative remedy. Such inaction is the political equivalent of the three talented servants in Jesus’s parable who were given responsibility and money to use and better the estate of their master.

As told in the Gospel of Matthew, two of the three servants used their abilities, improved the estate, and lived up to the faith and trust placed in them.  One was afraid of possible consequences of failure and did nothing.  Upon the Master’s return the two who acted were rewarded and praised.  The one who did nothing, was chastised and thrown out, not because he did not make a profit, but because he did not honor the wisdom and trust placed in him by the master.  While the audience of the parable as offered in Matthew were disciples of Christ individually and the Church collectively, it applies as well to elected leadership as they have to have been given trust and power.  In return, too many have failed to act upon this responsibility because of the fear they would lose this very same position.  Or, put another way, they see the position as a privilege, not the service.

May American elected leaders find a true servants calling and  live up to and for the trust place upon and in them.

About revkennydickson

I am a United Methodist minister and my professional passion is connecting issues of life and faith to film and other artforms. I am also interested in autism awareness and ministry and special needs. I am married to Michelle and have two children.
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2 Responses to “Where Have You Gone Gerald Ford?”

  1. empoprises says:

    I am also a fan of Gerald Ford, but I wonder how much of the pardon was a simple case of right person, right place, right time.

    Some people perform differently at different times. Take John Kennedy, who as Senator was accused of showing “too much profile and not enough courage” when Joseph McCarthy was censured, but who was ultimately respoonsible for expertly defusing the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    That having been said, it’s not unreasonable to expect a Speaker of the House or a Senate Majority Leader to exhibit leadership during times of crisis – if not Newtown, then the fiscal cliff negotiations (although on the latter, Boehner is literally trapped between a rock and a hard place).

    Many of the Old Testament kings, including leaders such as Saul and Solomon, were at times found wanting, but David serves (for the most part) as an example of a king who truly provided leadership.

  2. David was able to show leadership, even in the midst of his;failures because he was able to admit flaws, confess, make changes, and accept consequences.

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