By Don C. Brunell
It’s D-Day for American voters. With Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump carrying unusually low approval ratings and having a deep antipathy for one another, no matter which one ultimately is elected, the nation will be bitterly polarized.
Hopefully, each has a plan to bring us back together after Nov. 8.
America thrives on a peaceful transfer of power. It is one of the important traditions which has been handed down since John Adams succeeded George Washington on March 4, 1797.
For guidance, Clinton and Trump ought to look to Gerald Ford.
First, Ford acknowledged the loss and his concession statement was gracious and reassuring. He urged all Americans to leave the rancorous campaign behind and united with President-elect Carter. He pledged and gave his full support to Carter.
Ford was our first President to assume the office without having run for president or vice president. Late in 1973 when Spiro Agnew resigned as Vice President, Nixon surprised everyone appointing Ford. Then, on August 9, 1974, when Nixon became the first president to resign under the threat of impeachment, Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office as 38th President.
Ford faced some unusually difficult decisions during his 30 months as President.
One month after taking office, Ford granted Nixon a full, free and absolute pardon. It outraged many Americans, but Ford believed it was a necessary first step toward healing a divided nation.
Politically, the pardon was very costly. Ford’s approval rating quickly fell from 70 percent to below 40 percent, but over the years, Ford was vindicated.
In 2001, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation awarded him with the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In presenting the award, Sen. Ted Kennedy, who vociferously opposed to the pardon, stated that history proved Ford made the correct decision for this country.
Internationally, in March 1975, during the final days of the Vietnam War, Ford ordered the airlift of 237,000 Vietnamese refugees to the United States. It was an unpopular decision but he deeply believed that people who supported the United States should be saved.
At home, families and businesses faced interest rates, inflation and unemployment climbing toward double-digits. The economy was dropping quickly. Ford believed America needed to put its finances in order and stem borrowing.
But New York City leaders were looking for a massive federal bailout of the public pension system. Ford believed the rescue would be a fatal trend for our country although he kept the discussions going. Ultimately, Ford agreed to extend federal loans to the city preventing bankruptcy.
The political damage to Ford in New York City was deep and vitriolic. It sparked the infamous New York Daily News headline “Ford to City: Drop Dead.”
If Ford would have acquiesced to the bailout, he likely would have defeated Carter. The state’s 41 electoral votes would have been enough to swing the election. Even though New York City voted heavily for Carter, Ford barely lost the state overall.
Gerald Ford was a devoted and gracious public servant who put his country first. He served in the House of Representatives from 1949 to 1973. He was re-elected twelve times, winning each time with more than 60 percent of the vote.
Ford served most of his legislative career in the minority—eight of which were as minority leader. He could passionately disagree with presidents, Democrats and even fellow Republicans, yet limited his criticism to points in dispute without personalizing differences.
On Inauguration Day, President Carter began his speech: “For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
A grateful people concurred.
Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at theBrunells@msn.com.