Monday, November 13, 2006

The better Ford in the news

Gerald Ford (pictured in his official portait from 1974) became the longest living ex-US president on Sunday when he hit 93 years, 121 days old. So far, he’s beaten the next-oldest, Ronald Reagan (who died in 2004) by one day. The next-oldest was John Adams, the second US president, who died on July 4, 1826, aged 91.

It’s the second time Ford beat Reagan: In 1976, Ford won the Republican presidential nomination, keeping Reagan away for four more years. Jimmy Carter beat Ford in the general election that year.

I was a “home campaigner” for Ford back in ’76, even though I wasn’t old enough to vote. I can still remember the last two lines of Ford’s campaign jingle: “I’m feelin’ good about
America/I’m feelin’ good about me.” (That's just so 1970s, don't you think?)

I backed Ford because even then I was appalled at the Reaganites and their planned takeover of the Republican Party, carrying far-right Christian activists into positions of power, though they were largely kept out of sight during Reagan’s campaign for the 1976 Republican nomination. I also didn’t trust Jimmy Carter’s Southern Baptist roots.

As it happens, four years later I left the Republican Party after its lurch to the right, so I’ve never voted for a Republican for president.

Gerald Ford wasn’t perfect; even then there were things I criticised. But that was thirty years ago, and times—and Republicans—were different. I’d still pick Ford over Reagan any day. But I honestly don’t know if I’d still back him over Carter. I certainly like Carter much more now than I did then.

So I remember Gerald Ford and 1976 with some affectionate nostalgia. 1976 was the last year before politics changed forever for me. Reality is always harsher than such memories, I know, but I choose to keep them anyway.

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