Gerald R. Ford
It seems nearly every president enjoys an uptick in regard from historical revisionism decades after leaving office. Gerald Ford actually deserves it. It was his misfortune to be something of a 19th century-style president at a time when the rhetorical and mass-media presidency was reaching full flower. It was his further misfortune to be caught between a liberalism entering its final stages of decay but flushed with pride at having brought down Nixon, and a surging conservative movement that was running out of patience with the Republican establishment, of which Ford, a solid Midwestern conservative of the old school, was seen as a prominent member, and therefore an obstacle.
Although Ford confronted the runaway Democratic Congress with his veto pen and behind the scenes took the first steps toward economic and regulatory reforms that reached full fruition under Reagan, he seemed rhetorically unequal to the challenge of standing up to liberalism.
His greatest verbal gaffe--liberating Poland in the presidential debate in the 1976--arose from a clumsy attempt to preserve the latitude of the Helsinki Accords that were widely reviled on the right, but which in the fullness of time served their intended purpose of undermining the legitimacy of Soviet rule in Eastern Europe and emboldening anti-Communist dissidents. Amidst the enervating fog of detente at the time, this was impossible to foresee, even if Ford had phrased his argument more deftly. In hindsight we can now appreciate that Ford served us very well.
Steven F. Hayward is the F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at AEI.