Ford was a man for the times
My mother's favorite phrase, much to my childhood chagrin, was "Things happen for a reason." After reading the most recent tributes all over the press today on Gerald Ford, I have concluded that maybe mom is right. I find that President Ford's death, while sad for its loss, may be timely for its reflection of the man as America begins to consider who President Bush's successor will be.
I was too young to remember President Ford while in office, but like many Americans of all ages, my respect for him grew further only after history began to judge his actions in his short tenure in office. His could be the most unique of circumstances to ever have graced the seat of the Oval Office -- a man neither elected as a president nor on the ticket as a vice president. Yet this true gentleman came into office with the modest conviction that was essential to return the presidency to what it should have always been: a leader who was cognizant that the Oval Office is of the people of the United States, and not of the person holding that office. Maybe it was because he was keenly aware that he was not chosen by the people that his actions were focused on respecting their will to have integrity in office.
What struck me the most in these most recent television clips of his last interviews was that he spoke fondly of his relationship with House Speaker Tip O'Neill Their debates were heated on the floor, but warmed like a Christmas fire outside the chambers of the Capitol. They would have a beer, as friends would, and treat each other with respect, as professionals should. Their differences were based on their ideological beliefs about how to advance the country, and not filled with the animosity constantly seen in today's Washington politics.
The current and last presidencies and their corresponding congresses have seen such a deterioration in relations between parties that I can't bear to read the tributes for President Ford written by today's politicians. Did Vice President Cheney, who served under Ford as chief of staff, really think of Ford's ability to reach across the aisle when he pushed his neo-con foreign policy ahead as the only solution to reign in terrorism? Hard to say.
It cannot be denied: America is on the road to a perilous situation in Iraq. Our country, while still supportive of our men and women in uniform, is war-weary, much like we were when President Ford took the oath. And while there is no criminal investigation of President Bush, as there was of President Nixon, there is a profound sense of disappointment in the administration's inability to find an exit from Iraq, restore our nation's credibility around the world and increase our confidence in ourselves.
We must begin asking ourselves the hard questions needed in order to elect a leader in 2008 who can lead the way that President Ford did. I think of two men, one from each party who exhibit some of President Ford's traits: John McCain and Barak Obama. These men have a positive impact on their followers, but in two different ways. Sen. McCain appeals on his candidness, his history of duty and sacrifice, and his years in office. Sen. Obama appeals to us because of his freshness and his intentions to look beyond adversarial relationships between both parties.
Yet both men, as well as the others lining up for their party's nominations, may not be hitting the sweet spot of experience, temperament and personal political sacrifice that Ford had. Of course my views on Ford are crafted with the benefit of hindsight. Therefore, it is indeed possible that there will be such a leader who emerges through this next election process, and I do not recognize it now. For the sake of what President Ford did for this country in its grave moment of turmoil, I hope so. (Colin Powell, are you listening?)
Eric Planey, a Youngstown native, is vice president, Asian Relationship Management Desk of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi. He lives in Shanghai, China.