Monday, August 11, 2008

Book Review: "Gerald R. Ford" by Douglas Brinkley

This is yet another book in the American Presidents Series by Times Books (and completes my reading of the volumes I got for Christmas!). As with the other books, it is a biography which focuses on the presidency of the man and important issues relating to this presidency.

Of course, in Ford's case, he came to the presidency without the benefit of a vote of the people of all the states. Ford's background in Congress is covered, and his rise to minority leader detailed, giving insights as to why he was selected in 1973 upon Agnew's resignation as vice president. The Watergate matter is also covered in some detail.

The single biggest issue covered in the book is the decision to pardon Nixon a month after he became president. At the time, the decision was widely (and bipartisan-ly) condemned as anything from a mistake to a sinister deal. Brinkley takes the position—taken in 1974 by Ford—that the pardon was a necessary step of healing for the country, and anyway implied guilt by virtue of its acceptance by Nixon. He also spends some time detailing how the public perception of the pardon changed by the time of Ford's death last year. Other significant issues of his presidency are detailed, generally in a positive light, as are the challenge Reagan mounted for the Republican nomination in 1976 and his eventual loss in the 1976 election to Carter.

One thing to note is that Ford was not a conservative in the sense described today. He was pro-choice on the abortion issue (as was his wife). There is some debate as to whether he took a sufficiently hard stance against communism during his 29-month presidency. Due to the large democratic majorities in Congress at that time, he would have had difficulty getting any significant conservative legislation through, which, of course, gives some to believe that he was too cozy with the democrats in Congress.

The book is readable, informative, and generally evenhanded (Brinkley, like most of the biographers in this series, usually describes his subject as positively as objectivity will allow). If you want a basic overview of the Ford presidency, you will get a good one here.

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