With the passing of former President Gerald Ford, we close the book on a part of our nation's history. Ford was a good man thrust into a bad situation and he did the best he could for his nation following Richard Nixon's resignation. In a way, he performed one of the great services of this country: he sacrificed his own future to do the right thing. Even though he pardoned Nixon, which made many people angry with him and lead to the election of Jimmy Carter, it was the only thing he could do that would but Watergate behind us once and for all. For that, he has earned my undying respect.
Also with Ford's passing was the passage of another part of our history, one I don't think many of us even noticed or understand yet. With Ford's death, the only living Presidents we have now are less than impressive. Here they are.
Jimmy Carter - Until the last couple of years, I felt bad for Carter. Much like Ford, he was a good man who was thrust into a bad situation and paid the price for it politically. Dealing with an oil shortage, inflation, economic woes, and the Iran hostage crisis was a heavy burden for any man, and Carter didn't really get a chance to show what he could do in office. Given his more recent statements about world events and the Bush Administration, I'm glad we didn't.
George H. W. Bush - The more I research the Bush family, the more I realize how ugly and milquetoast they can be. The elder Bush exemplifies this. His "read my lips, no new taxes" promise got broken because he neglected to get the Democrats to stick to any agreement they had with him. Not exactly the sign of a strong leader. And had it not been for Bush the Elder listening to the UN over his generals, would we even remember who Saddam Hussein was?
Bill Clinton - What can I say about Slick Willy that hasn't already been said? Clinton's greatest accomplishment as President was that he managed to keep his pants on most of the time. You can point to small things, like the passage of the Family Medical Leave Act or signing the Brady Bill into law, but Clinton really never wowed us on the big stage. I think it's because Clinton never realized the potential he had as President. Think about it. He could have had any number of starlets giving him all sorts of pleasure, but he chooses Monica Lewinsky? If that alone doesn't tell you how ineffective Clinton was, nothing will.
George W. Bush - This guy is perhaps the most frustrating man ever to be President. The man understands events on levels most people don't even consider, but does he articulate it? Nope! He just assumes we'll come around sooner or later. That's the same kind of blasse attitude that got his dad put out to pasture in 1992 and it's screwing up the war on terrorism in a big way. And then on some issues, like illegal immigration, the dude's completely clueless! And you never know which Dubya you're gonna get from issue to issue.
Put simply, Ford's death signaled the death of Presidents who were significant, who lead the country with vision and courage. What we're left with now are Presidents and former Presidents who we don't really respect because we can look down on them and laugh. Some, like Carter and the elder Bush, really don't like to be ridiculed. Others, like Clinton, love it because it makes them the center of attention.
But this doesn't make the country better. If anything, it weakens us at home and abroad. If we settle for a guy who makes us laugh over one who makes us want to work to make the country great, we're selling ourselves short. On the international level, we're still the world's only superpower, and we don't convey that very well with someone who isn't taking the responsibilities of being a superpower seriously. The minute we started replacing leaders with jesters is the minute we stopped living up to our potential as a country.
The only way to change this is to change our expectations. Instead of pulling the lever for someone we think is cute or who will vote for some or most of the issues that are important to us, we need to start voting for men and women who want the best for America, not their party or their wallets. Yes, I know that will require us to forego watching "Survivor" a time or two while we brush up on the candidates, but trust me it will be worth it. One person can change the world by simply leading and encouraging us to follow.
Gerald Ford was just such a man. Let's just hope he's not the last.