Now that he is safely dead, good guy Jerry Ford has come out against the war. One more voice, once more too late. His name is now appended to the list of retired generals, ex-CIA-ers and the recently deceased who say that they were against Bush’s war but kept quiet when it counted.
Two years ago Ford told a Washington Post reporter what he really, really, really thought about going to war in Iraq but said his opinions might not be published until after he had shuffled off the mortal coil. Now, when it does not make much difference, his position is being widely quoted: “Rumsfeld and Cheney and the President made a big mistake in justifying going into the war in Iraq…. I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error…. If I had been President…I don’t think I would have ordered the Iraq war.”
Ford was, by most accounts, a genuinely nice guy, although giving him two, three, four, ten, who knows how many funerals all over the country seems excessive for a man even his admiring obituaries call “the accidental President.” Beloved by other politicians, newsies, his wife, his children and their pets, as a President Jerry was pretty much a nebbish, a guy Nixon put in the job because he knew he would hew to the party line and stifle any deviant ideas, should one occur to him.
While he was President it was generally believed that thoughts came to Jerry slowly and not so very often. As we can see from his remarks on the war, he did sometimes generate a thought or two. But until the end he was a party man, and party loyalty prescribed no public criticism, not even in the face of an impending national train wreck.
You cannot be too hard on the guy for ducking controversy. Ex-accidental President or not, when you’re an old politician, you want to be liked even more than you wanted to be liked when you were a less old politician. Retired, ex-unelected Presidents in their 80s and 90s do not buck their party leader on a peace or war issue. So he chickened out pre-mortem, and post-mortem his thoughts are a one-day story.
Still, Jerry is turning out to be useful. The Commentariate, that never-silent college of men and women whose work it is to form our opinions, are hailing Jerry as The Healer and binder-upper of the nation’s partisan wounds. He is supposed to have nursed America back to health after Nixon and Watergate during his brief occupancy of the White House. How sick America was at the time is debatable, but what the hey!
Jerry, The Healer, fits in with the big contemporary hoo-hah about bipartisan national unity, civility and getting back to a time when, in Jerry’s much quoted phrase, politicians disagreed without being disagreeable. These days we have a lot of politicians agreeing while being disagreeable, meaning they are not always very nice to one another, but when it comes to the war, they agree we must struggle on getting killed and killing others.
The unity theme gives cover for politicians who cling to the same-old same-old. Nevertheless, the more unity, the less debate. The less debate, the softer the demands to quit this war and find a workable way to defend ourselves against terrorism. For schmoozing over serious divisions of opinion the affable, benign Jerry is as useful dead as he was alive. Hence, for four days the country was close to being brought to a dead stop to mark the passing of this highly unexceptional politician.
Here and there questions were raised. Some mentioned Ford’s ineffectual approach to the country’s raging inflation and unemployment. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reminded her listeners of his Indonesian invasion and conquest of little East Timor and the resultant deaths of 200,000 people. The day before the invasion Ford had visited with Indonesia’s dictator. When asked about it, Ford answered, “Frankly, I don’t recall.”
It is possible that the genial Ford did not remember or wasn’t told about his Administration’s 1975 abandonment of the Iraqi Kurds to Saddam Hussein, who promptly put them through his human meat grinder. The source for Ford’s part in the Kurd’s mini or not-so-mini holocaust is the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole.
Now the accidental, regular guy has passed away after a long and decent life, the second half of which he spent making money by sitting on corporate boards. Until death brought him this temporary elevation to greatness, he was dismissed as a mediocrity. History will rank Jerry Ford with another accidental Republican President, Chester A. Arthur, who, prior to his election to the Vice Presidency, had been customs collector for the Port of New York. He was a snappy dresser and a helluva nice guy. In the Valhalla reserved for ex-Presidents, Chet and Jerry will become the best of friends.