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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Fog/Mist
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As good as they get
A fond farewell to Gerald Ford, our greatest president
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During Ford's all-too-brief tenure, a mood of geniality was the rule.
During Ford's all-too-brief tenure, a mood of geniality was the rule.

I bid a sad adieu to Gerald Ford, who has always been, in my view, America's greatest president. Transferring the Hippocratic injunction from the medical to the political realm, he did the least possible harm. Under Ford's tranquil hand, the nation relaxed after the hectic fevers of the Nixon years. He finally pulled the U.S. out of Vietnam.

At the Ford presidential library, the largest military adventure available for display is the foolish American response to the capture of the U.S. container ship Mayaguez by the Khmer Rouge on May 12, 1975. As imperial adventures go, and alongside the vast graveyards left by Ford's predecessors and successors, it was small potatoes.

Ford was surrounded by bellicose advisers: his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger; his vice president, Nelson Rockefeller; his chief of staff, and later secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld; and his presidential assistant, Dick Cheney. The fact that this rabid crew was only able to persuade Ford to green light Indonesia's invasion of East Timor - an appalling decision, to be sure - is tribute to Ford's pacific instincts. Unlike George W. Bush, Ford was of humane temper and could mostly hold in check his bloodthirsty counselors.

Kissinger was part of the furniture when Ford took over, after Nixon's resignation on Aug. 8, 1974. Where he had latitude to choose, Ford made sensible selections, none more fruitful than his attorney general, Edward Levy, who in turn prompted Ford to nominate John Stevens to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he has long distinguished himself as the most humane and progressive justice.

Social spending, as a percentage of the federal budget, crested in the Ford years. Never should it be forgotten that Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, the prophet of neoliberalism, precursor of the Democratic Leadership Council.

If Ford had beaten back Carter's challenge in 1976, the neocon crusades of the mid- to late 1970s would have been blunted by the mere fact of a Republican occupying the White House. Reagan, most likely, would have returned to his slumbers in California after his abortive challenge to Ford for the nomination in Kansas in 1976.

Instead of a weak Southern Democratic conservative in agreement with almost every predation by the military industrial complex, we would have had a Midwestern Republican far less vulnerable to promoters of the New Cold War.

Ford, most likely, would not have rushed to fund the Contras and order their training by Argentinean torturers. He wouldn't have sent the CIA on its most costly covert mission, the $3.5 billion intervention in Afghanistan. And the nation would have been spared the disastrous counsels of Carter's foreign-policy adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Those who may challenge this assessment of Ford's imperial instincts should listen to the commentators on CNN, belaboring the scarcely cold commander in chief for timidity and lack of zeal in prosecuting the Cold War. By his enemies shall we know him.

During Ford's all-too-brief tenure, a mood of geniality was the rule. Even the attempted assassinations of the president by Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and Sara Moore, in September 1975, had a slapdash, lighthearted timbre. The arts flourished, as is attested by Vicki Carr's frequent appearance in the photographic record of White House galas.

At the side of America's greatest president was America's most sympathetic first lady, Betty, whose enduring memorial is the Betty Ford Clinic, home port for beleaguered boozers. I send my sympathies to the former first lady.

Media warmongers

The U.S. has been militarily defeated in Iraq. There is no light, of any sort, at the end of the tunnel. Yet major newspapers continue to pretend otherwise. New York Times reporter Michael Gordon has played a particularly pernicious role, as the prime journalistic agitator for a "surge" in troop strength.

In late July, in writing about plans to move more troops into Baghdad, Gordon wondered "whether the increased violence will prompt American commanders to modify their longer-term plans for troop reductions." In a story that ran on Sept. 11, Gordon was more emphatic, citing a senior officer in Iraq saying more American troops were necessary to stabilize Anbar. His story on Oct. 22 emphasized that "the sectarian violence [in Baghdad] would be far worse if not for the American efforts."

In mid-November, when Rep. John Murtha - an advocate of immediate withdrawal - was running for House majority leader, Gordon rushed out two stories urging against troop reductions and advocating a temporary increase, both front-paged by the Times. These were followed by similar stories in December.

At the Washington Post, David Ignatius has similarly fostered the impression of feasible options in Iraq. "With enough troops and aggressive tactics," he wrote earlier in 2006, "American forces can bring order to even the meanest streets."

So here we have the nation's lead war reporters diligently promulgating the core fantasy: that the United States has options beyond accepting defeat. The vast majority of Iraqis want U.S. forces out. There is nothing sane left to do, beyond removing U.S. troops at the earliest possible moment.

Politicians yearn for a more upbeat message. The duty of the press is to tell them the truth.

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