When Gerald Ford died this week, a part of my adolescence went with him.
I started getting interested in politics as a teenager during the Watergate era. From what I saw, politics was a joke. Nixon was a crook, his cabinet were all criminals, and the impeachment hearings were our daily dose of entertainment. And when Gerald Ford became vice president and then president, the hilarity continued. I was a fan of the original Saturday Night Live, and the evening wouldn’t be complete without watching Chevy Chase open the show with his Gerald Ford pratfall. The WIN buttons were good for a few snickers too.
But when America went to the polls in 1976, the only candidate I felt I could trust to lead was Gerald Ford. There was something about him that was dependable and trustworthy. (I certainly didn’t want to leave the leadership of America to some peanut farmer from Georgia.) I was still a few years away from voting, but I still got a Ford/Dole button that I wore to school.
Although I earned my Eagle Scout in February 1977, my certificate still had “Earned During the Bicentennial Year” and a signature by Gerald Ford. My mom, a staunch Midwestern Republican, was happy about that.
I’m glad to see that history is finally giving this “accidental president” the recognition he is due. We’re finally recognizing the wisdom of his pardon of Richard Nixon. Had we gone through another few years of hearings and trials, and if he had gone to jail, adolescents like me would have given up any shred of respect we had for public office — or in America.
As we take a moment to remember Gerald Ford, I recall a fond memory that for me best summarizes the man. On one of those Saturday Night Live shows in 1976, he made a cameo on Chevy Chase’s Weekend Update segment. He mimicked Chevy’s tag line, “I’m Gerald Ford, and you’re not.” Perhaps politics is a joke, but it was refreshing to see a president who was willing to laugh about it — and help us get through a difficult time.