Don't the Presidents Get Prettier at Funeral Time?

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It wasn’t until he died on December 26th that we discovered what went wrong for poor ol’ President Ford. He was running against the wrong Georgian when he lost the White House 1976. Ford lost to former Governor James Earl Carter that unhappy November day. He might have fared better had he been contesting the race with another of Georgia’s favorite sons, James Brown.

Brown, the legendary "Godfather of Soul," died on Christmas Day and his passing produced a lot of newsprint and media talk. But when Gerald Ford died a day later, he knocked Mr. Brown off Page One and kept himself in the news for days on end. It reminded me of what some unnamed publicist said about the death of Elvis Presley: "It was a great move, public relations-wise."

It may seem a strange comparison to liken solid Citizen Ford’s passing at age 93 with the death of the King of Rock and Roll at 42, but one of the amazing things about life is that after death, anything is possible. And given the outpouring of praise and adulation that followed Mr. Ford on his journey to the grave, I’m almost surprised he hasn’t appeared on Mount Rushmore by now.

We didn’t have to look very far to see the hagiographers at work. I just had to look at one of my two daily newspapers in Manchester. (Yes, New Hampshire, there are two dailies in Manchester now.) The Manchester Daily Express carried a syndicated cartoon showing a large crowd of citizens, one of them holding a lamp, "Looking For Another Gerald Ford." And a letter to the editor on the same page declared Mr. Ford was "one of our greatest presidents." The writer listed his top three and he had good ol’ Jerry in the number-2 spot, sandwiched between George Washington and Teddy Roosevelt. So at least we now know the meaning of the seemingly self-deprecating humor in the former president’s famous remark, "I’m a Ford, not a Lincoln." Henry, the automaker, would be proud.

To paraphrase but slightly the great Singing Ranger, Hank Snow, "Pardon me if I’m unsentimental when we say goodbye." I’ve never held fast to that unwritten rule that we should speak no ill of the dead. My favorite columnist in the Goldwater days of my youth was National Review founder and editor William F. Buckley, Jr. And I remember the extreme delight with which I discovered, years after it was first published, Mr. Buckley’s essay on the passing of Eleanor Roosevelt. He was in favor of it.

Still, I have no desire to dump on Gerald Ford. Unlike many New Hampshire residents, who seem to be on a first-name basis with both former and future presidents, I never met President Ford. So I can at least give him the benefit of the doubt. (As Archie Bunker, misquoting Will Rogers, said: "I never met a man I really liked.") I can believe he was a nice man, while still maintaining that niceness is overrated. And while I would never consider putting Ford in either the "great" or "near-great" category, I would not begrudge him his place alongside, say, Millard Fillmore in the ranks of the "fair to middlin’" presidents. If you want me to be really magnanimous, I might even, in a moment of weakness, concede that he was, possibly, a "pretty good" president. Heck, I even voted for him.

But let’s face it, folks: We the people gave him the boot after less than 2 and 1/2 years on the job. Are we supposed to believe now that it was all a huge mistake on our part? Well, okay, "the people" are not infallible. We can make mistakes. Still, I have to wonder…

What will they say, then, when Jimmy Carter dies?

Manchester, NH, resident Jack Kenny [send him mail] is a freelance writer.

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