I'm not heartless, but I'm also not paralyzed with grief over Gerald Ford's passing overnight. Despite Jennifer's expectation that I am constantly weeping, I think Ford sits in a curious place in American history, and that his long illness makes his passing both expected and something of a relief (he has been in and out of hospital since January this year).
(And before I leave the topic of weeping, I am reminded of a Nora Ephron quote - "Show me a woman who cries when the trees lose their leaves in autumn and I'll show you a real asshole." And "beware of men who cry. It's true that men who cry are in touch with their feelings, but the only feelings they tend to be sensitive to and in touch with are their own.")
Watching a smidge of the wall-to-wall coverage this morning (and bravo MSNBC for moving on), I think Ford's legacy won't be quite as neatly tidy as Ronald Reagan's, even for conservatives, who've largely forgiven Ford and replaced "the Man Who beat Reagan in 76" with "the Man Who Pardoned Nixon," surely an altogether dubious embrace all around. There's just not a great way to dress up Ford's brief stint - never elected to President or VP, he pardoned Nixon right off the bat, which may have ended a "national nightmare" for some, but for some people (hi Mom!) cut off a necessary investigation and debate on the abuses of Presidential power. I agree.
And, thanks to George Bush's bypass of almost anyone associated with his father, the current administration was built on Ford's legacy: Dick Cheney, his Chief of Staff, and the man who followed in that post, Donald Rumsfeld, among others. And we were reminded instantly of the wrong lessons they had learned in the last go-round: a near fetish with Executive privilege and secrecy, and a blundering foreign policy that learned nothing from Vietnam. Neither conservatives (Bob Novak was especially tough in the assessment I saw on Fox) nor liberals are well served trying to paper over the controversies and weaknesses of his Presidency, and an honest assessment would put him, I think, as an interesting, but mistaken blip.
Still, I have a soft spot for Ford: his was the first real Presidency I remember from start to finish, I've always admired Betty (even during the drunk years she had a grace about her), and his daughter went to school in the private school behind my neighborhood in Bethesda when I lived there. He is also our first President to have worked as a model prior to being elected (as did Betty). If, in the end, he was little more than the punch line for a Chevy Chase routine, he did also provide a needed change in Presidential tone: human size, polite, gentle.... however ill-conceived his appointed Presidency was. May he rest in peace.