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January 3, 2007
Column #1,323
Advance for January 6, 2007
Ford: A Christian Politician
by Michael J. McManus

Four prominent Washingtonians eulogized Gerald Ford at moving memorial service at the magestic National Cathedral -  President George Bush and his father, Henry Kissinger and Tom Brokaw.   They said memorable things, but the deepest insights came from an unknown, Rev. Robert Certain, pastor of Ford's church in California.

The elder President Bush called Ford "a Norman Rockwell painting come to life...To political ally and adversary alike, Jerry Ford's word was always good....Few if any of our public leaders could have stepped into the breach and rekindled our national faith as did President Gerald R. Ford. History has a way of matching man and moment...Just as F.D.R.'s optimism was the perfect antidote to the despair of the Great Depression, so too can we say that Jerry Ford's decency was the ideal remedy for the deception of Watergate."

Kissinger recalled, "Gerald Ford was always driven by his concern for humane values...Throughout the final ordeal of Indochina, Gerald Ford focused on America's duty to rescue the maximum number of those who had relied on us. The extraction of 150,000 refugees was the consequence." 

The current President Bush noted that the "Helsinki Accords" that ratified borders in Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe ( a source of intense criticism at the time) also set "new standards for human rights" which "helped bring down the Soviet Union as courageous men and women behind the Iron Curtain used it to demand their God-given liberties."

Tom Brokaw praised Ford's "decency, honesty and his modesty," qualities that are rare among U.S. Presidents. "Gerald Ford brought to the political arena no demons, no hidden agenda, no hit list or acts of vengeance." 

Indeed, most speakers praised his decision to pardon Richard Nixon that was so unpopular at the time, his approval rating dropped 20 points, contributing substantially to his inability to be re-elected. However, that act spared the nation from what likely would have been years of divisive trials of the disgraced President.  Sen. Edward Kennedy, who was bitterly critical at the time, changed his mind and awarded Ford a "Profile In Courage" award in 1999.

However, none of these eulogies got to the core of the inner Gerald Ford.  What enabled him to befriend both Democratic and Republican politicians with big egos? The President inaccurately said that when Nixon "needed to replace a vice president who had resigned in scandal, he naturally turned to a man whose name was a synonym for integrity, Gerald R. Ford."

In fact, Nixon wanted to name Texas Gov. John Connally not Ford as his VP.  The Democratic Speaker of the House, Carl Albert and key Republicans, persuaded Nixon that House Minority Leader Ford's nomination would sail through, while Connelly's would be questionable.

Why was Ford so beloved? 

Rev. Certain told mourners at the National Cathedral and the national TV audience  that many of Jesus' words "have been reflected in the life and ministry of Gerald Ford. In Matthew 5...Jesus gives us a list of virtues in the Beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount:

• "‘God blesses those people who depend only on him. They belong to the kingdom of God.' Gerald Ford, you have always been a man of that kingdom.

• "‘God blesses those people who are humble. The earth will belong to them.' My dear friend, this earth was yours...

• "‘God blesses those people who are merciful. They will be treated with mercy.' Gerald Ford, you showed mercy when others demanded vengeance...

• "‘God blesses those people who make peace. They will be called his children.' Jerry Ford, you were truly a child of God."

His pastor stated the matter simply: "Gerald Ford was a Christian man, a man who lived his life in accordance with the virtues of the Beatitudes.  For us, he will continue to serve as an example of how to live as a man of faith, a man of the nation, a man for the world."

He added, on the last day of his ministry, Jesus said, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

• "In WW II Gerald Ford served in the Navy, willing to die for this nation...

• "As President, he laid aside his political future to heal this nation."

However, in 2004 Ford told Washington Post's Bob Woodward he "very strongly" disagreed with Bush's justification for invading Iraq, adding "I don't think I would have gone to war." Ford only asked that his opinion not be published until his death, which Woodward honored.

Ford's commitment to the truth, as he saw it, was deeper than his desire not to offend which governed his political life until his death.

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