Ford And Carter: A Tale Of Two Ex-Presidents
By Arianna Huffington
October 08, 1998
This is a tale of two ex-presidents: One is Jimmy Carter, who, in a speech in Atlanta on Sept. 23, stated matter of factly that "the president has not been truthful in his deposition given in the Paula Jones case or in the interrogation by the grand jury." He has also called for an investigation into the cruise missile attack on the pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, adding that if the factory turns out to have been the wrong target "we should admit our error and make amends to those who have suffered loss or injury."
The other ex-president is Gerald Ford, who wrote a column for the New York Times on Sunday, fretting over "the long-term consequences of removing this president from office." He waxed statesmanlike in favor of censure-plus -- "a harshly worded rebuke" in the well of the House in the closing days of 1998. Only someone who has spent so many long, sun-dazed hours on a golf course at the Thunderbird Country Club in Rancho Mirage, Calif., could come up with such a fraternity-style solution.
Some claim that a crisis brings out the best in people, others that it brings out the worst. The two ex-presidents have proved in their responses that it simply brings out the most in people -- the essence of who they are.
President Ford has always exuded a quality of placid disengagement from national and international affairs. Who can forget that infamous moment during the second presidential debate of 1976 when he opined that "there is no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe"? And when he was pressed on the point, he replied that he didn't think the Poles, among others, "considered themselves dominated." Chevy Chase couldn't have pulled that one off.
The Washington political class that has been working overtime to deliver a censure -- excuse me, a censure-plus -- as the only dignified solution found an all-too-ready advocate in Gerald Ford, who called it "the first moment of majesty in an otherwise squalid year." So the ex-president most identified with eternal klutziness -- physical and intellectual -- has stepped forward to give us a lesson in dignity and majesty.
Meanwhile, Jimmy Carter, who has used his ex-presidential leisure to build houses for the poor and his ex-presidential authority to promote peace abroad, has repeatedly expressed concerns over Clinton's abuses of power and not just about Monica Lewinsky. At the same time that Ford, responding to a personal plea from Clinton, was publishing an article in favor of fast-track legislation, Carter was calling for an independent counsel to investigate Clinton's fund-raising activities. And when a journalist commented in his presence that "it was good that Clinton was finally telling the truth about Ms. Lewinsky," Carter acerbically responded: "If he's telling the truth."
There is always the sense about Ford, on the other hand -- going all the way back to his caretaker presidency -- that the views he expresses are as incidental to the man as the little groom on top of the wedding cake is to the substance of the cake. Ford's chief of staff Penny Circle assured me that the president wrote the censure-plus op-ed all by himself. Far be it from me to contradict her, but the elegiacal tone of the piece -- "to draw off the poison that had seeped into the nation's bloodstream"-- is hardly Ford's voice, unless he's spent the last four months in Colorado golfing with William Faulkner.
It's far more likely that Ford put his name to a glossy piece that was the distillation of the Washington establishment's wisdom. And Carter's principled stands have always been an embarrassment to that crowd.
While Carter has remained in the arena, responsible for the release of 50,000 conscientious objectors overseas and the building of dozens of Habitat for Humanity homes in the United States, Ford has been presiding over the annual Jerry Ford Invitational Golf Tournament. (Can you even put your tongue around the words "The Jimmy Carter Invitational Golf Tournament"?)
"More than any other president in memory," Douglas Brinkley, Carter's biographer, wrote, "Carter had turned his back on money lenders and influence peddlers." Influence peddling, on the other hand, has been the blood coursing in Ford's veins. Just like his 1976 vice-presidential running mate, Bob Dole, he's always ready to go to bat for the status quo.
Ford's and Carter's conflicting public comments on the Clinton crisis demonstrate beyond any doubt that the debate transcends left-right distinctions. The media continue to harp on the partisanship of the proceedings -- and there is plenty of it. But in the process, they have missed the many condemnations and calls for resignation originating from the left -- including former Carter pollster Pat Cadell, who at 21 was the youngest person on Nixon's enemies list.But the man who lost his presidency because he pardoned Nixon is now going easy on another rogue.
© 2004 Christabella, Inc. All rights reserved.
Find this article at: