Gerald Ford is gone, but he lives on in two of his key appointees: Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. Their impact on America today is greater than Ford's, who died Tuesday at 93.
Ford appointed Rumsfeld his chief of staff when he took office after Nixon's resignation in 1974. The next year, when he made the 42-year-old Rumsfeld the youngest secretary of defense in the nation's history, he named 34-year-old Dick Cheney his chief of staff, also the youngest ever.
Those two Ford appointees worked together ever since. The Bush White House assertion of unchecked presidential power stems from the lessons they drew from their experience of working for the weakest president in recent American history. "For Dick and Don," Harold Meyerson wrote in The American Prospect last July, "the frustrations of the Ford years have been compensated for by the abuses of the Bush years."
Ford also named a new head of the CIA – a former Texas congressman named George H. W. Bush. Thus you could also credit also Ford with launching the Bush dynasty.
It was during Ford's presidency that the last Americans left Vietnam – that photo of them struggling to get into that chopper on the roof of the Saigon embassy remains our most powerful image of American defeat, and it shadows our current debate about how to get out of Iraq.
Ford did leave one positive legacy, as Meyerson reminds us: his supreme court appointee, John Paul Stevens. Few remember it today, but when the Court majority appointed Bush president in December, 2000, Stevens wrote a blistering dissent, damning the other Republican appointees for their blatant partisanship. And this year Stevens wrote the majority opinion in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld declaring that the military tribunals at Guantanamo violated the Geneva Convention.
But we wouldn't need Stevens if we didn't have Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush–that's the legacy of Gerald Ford.