The last American President (indeed, I believe, the last American politician) to really remember what the United States was like before the Hoover-Roosevelt Depression and the New Deal died on December 26th..
From now on every one talks or writes of the time when, for example, American farmers got their income from their customers, rather than the government, will be drawing on second hand information from books and so on rather than their own memories.
The same is true for when people talk of the time when men either did not expect to ‘retire’ (i.e. stop working because they had reached a certain age) or looked to their families and to private investments and fraternities (in the 1920′s ‘fraternity’ did not mean ‘student society’ for most people – it meant a group of adult people in a social and mutual aid society) to finance their retirement.
Was it a better time? Well technology was much more primitive and the capital base much less developed – so living standards were a lot lower. At least the statistics tell me so, although whenever I see film of the time (even socialist propaganda films) the people of the 1920′s look better dressed and more clean cut (or just more clean) than people today. And I do not think that the fact that most people were a lot slimmer was due to them not having enough money to eat themselves fat.
However, I am thinking of what is sometimes (after the actor) called the ‘Harold Lloyd’ America of scientific, economic and social progress (the America that Ford’s Grand Rapids Michigan was very much a part of in the 1920′s). Not the ‘Jim Crow’ (compulsory discrimination against blacks) South where corruption and poverty were much bigger factors.
On race: It was legal to discriminate against blacks in Michigan in the 1920′s (although, as stated above, it was not compulsory), but one of things about being a libertarian that shocks people is that we do not hold that someone should be prevented from discriminating by law. Who one chooses to trade with should be just that – a choice. If a bigot chooses not to take the money from black people (for example by not allowing them to rent rooms in his hotel), or chooses to employ a white idiot over an intelligent black person – that is their loss.
As for the general question of “race relations”. Did people of different races really tend to hate each other more in 1920′s Michigan (and the North generally) than they do now? Or did they just lie less? Judging things Henry Ford’s anti-semitic Dearborn Independent will not do. Henry Ford really did believe that ‘the Jews’ had sabotaged his efforts to make peace in Europe during World War I, but Henry Ford did not speak for all of Michigan, let alone all of the North. Michigan was and is also the State of Hillsdale University , the first college in the nation to let in blacks in on equals terms way back in the 1850′s and a strong supporter of equal treatment of people from all ethnic groups and of women. They were also a stern opponent of government statutes to force people act in ways favourable to blacks or to women or to anyone). With the death of Gerald Ford there is virtually no one left who knows what ordinary people really felt in their hearts in the 1920′s.
As for Prohibition: now there is the ‘War on Drugs’ which produces even more crime and corruption. At least there was a Constitutional basis for Prohibition (the 18th Amendment).
On politics: I confess I do not even know how Gerald Ford voted in 1936 (even if voted at all). I know he worked in the Republican campaign in 1940, but that might have been a protest against FDR going for a third term (which even George Washington had rejected) rather than out of a desire to fight the New Deal.
Certainly Gerald Ford (then an ‘America First’ type person as most Republicans from the midwest were) was against the underhand way that President Roosevelt was trying to get the United States into World War II (and contrary to the myth being against war in 1940 did not mean being ‘pro Nazi’ most, although not all, people who were against war in the United States despised Hitler and the National Socialists), and FDR was certainly violating the law – for example by sending aid to Britain, occupying Iceland, and ordering American forces to destroy German naval forces and dishonestly claiming that the Germans fired first.
On Japan, President Roosevelt’s policy of seizing Japanese assets and cutting off supplies of raw materials to Japan successfully led to war. But the Japanese did not have to be so stupid as to lauch the suicidal war on the United States in 1941 (they should either have just accepted their losses – or helped the Germans against the Soviet Union) and nor did they have to wage the war in the way they did (for example the vile treatment of allied prisoners of war did not benefit Japan in any great way).
Nor did the Germans have to declare war on the United States after the 1941 attack by Japan any more than the Japanese had declared war on the Soviet Union after the German attack on it in June – indeed the failure of Japan to help allowed the Soviets to move vast forces from Siberia to the defence of Moscow.
Whatever the details the actions of both Japan and Germany and the threat of international communism led Gerald Ford to reject the view that America could stay out of the wars of the world – and he became an ‘internationalist’, running against the ‘isolationist’ Republican Congressman in Grand Rapids and supporting Thomas Dewey, Dwight Eisenhower faction of the Republican party who wished to keep American power actively involved overseas.
How does this fit with wanting to keep government limited at home?
Certainly it is possible to support an ‘active’ foreign policy and limited government at the same time as a lot of people have – going right back to Pitt the Elder in Britain, but there is a tension in allowing government to spend a lot and do a lot in terms of defence and foreign policy and trying to keep it otherwise limited – however much writers such William Buckley Jr tried to paper over the cracks.
Oddly enough, I think that Gerald Ford went full circle (or something close to it) in foreign policy. As President he still tried to prevent the betrayal of Laos, Cambodia and the Republic of Vietnam, when Congress cut off support and allowed the Communists to take over in contempt for the peace agreements they had signed, murdering millions of people and enslaving tens of millions more.
However, President Ford’s heart never seemed to be it. He said clearly that Congress was breaking the promises that America had made – but he never made a great campaign of it. It was not that Ford was a pacifist as when the Cambodian Communists captured an American ship, his response was swift and hard, it was that in his heart he did not really believe in great President Wilson style wars for the alleged benefit of foreigners. If the foreigners were too unwilling or too corrupt to defend themselves after almost 60,000 Americans had died for them, perhaps it was time to say “enough is enough” and leave them to their fate (although President Ford did make sure that hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from Indochina were allowed into the United States – and they have proved to be good citizens). And, of course, President Ford was not supportive of the present war in Iraq (yet another President Wilson style war for other people). The old midwestern Republican doubts “it is just another government program that will not work” and “the locals will hate us whatever we do” from the pages of the Chicago Tribune in its Robert McCormack days were sleeping – not dead.
However, there is a difference between the struggle against Communism and the present struggle. Few now pretend that the majority of people in the counties that the Marxists took over were pro-Marxist even in the case of Vietnam, people who claim, I believe falsely, that most people were pro VC and NVA say this was because of ‘nationalism’ not because of support for the doctrines of Karl Marx).
The fact is that almost all the population of Iraq is Muslim and the enemy (both in Iraq and in many other places) is radical Islam (both Sunni and Shia), and who are we to say that the radicals have “misinterpreted Islam” – after all US military Islamic chaplains and Islamic consultants for the FBI have turned out to be supporters of this ‘misinterpretation’ and schools that “our friends the government of Saudi Arabia” fund teach this ‘misinterpretation” all over the world – including in the United States and the United Kingdom (such as the bits about trees and rocks crying out that there are Jews hiding behind them and that Muslims should come and kill them).
It is the same with immigration. Someone who escapes from a Marxist country is very unlikely to be a Marxist, but someone who comes from a Muslim country is likely to be a Muslim. And even if they themselves are not enemies of West, their children may well be as France and so many other countries have learned – although few people dare talk about it openly). Bigotry – perhaps, but sometimes that is just the way things are. It is unlikely that seeing some pornography, or going to sporting events in the West is going to overturn the cultural inheritance of fourteen centuries of conflict between the West and Islam, or is going to change the basic facts of the life of Mohammed and the doctrines of Islam. Indeed the sort of modern “culture” that young Muslim in the West is likely to be exposed to, especially in inner city areas, is going to lead to a higher percentage of them being anti-Western than their parents and grandparents generation and I am sure that is as true in Dearborn Michigan as it is in Birmingham England. And, of course, the present anti-Western teachings in government schools and in the broadcast media do not exactly help matters.
Still, whatever the truth of all the above may be, the fact that President Ford was not engaged in war made his efforts to limit government spending less contradictory – he did not have to engage in any Mark Steyn style mental gymnastics to explain why an obvious tension (being pro-war and pro-limited government spending – at the same time) is all fine really. Although why a government that can not deliver the mail should be any good at ‘nation building’ overseas is never explained. Any more than if the government is so good at ‘nation building’, why should it not be good at providing health care for everyone at home. Going out to kill or capture a person (be he Saddam Hussain or OBL) I can understand – “building a nation” is rather different. In the end it will up to the people in these nations themselves, the United States and Britain can kill X number of bad guys. or at least I would hope so – but it is up to them to “build a nation”.
Hopefully, nicer interpretations of Islam will win out – but I suspect that may depend on the Saudi Arabia (for the Sunni) and Iran (for the Shia) not having vast amounts of oil money to subsidize the most radical interpretations of Islam.
Of course Gerald Ford, like his 1976 running mate Bob Dole of Kansas, had been active in trying to limit government spending back in the 1960′s (and, as Mark Steyn would point out, they had not been anti-war), indeed Gerald Ford had been the Minority Leader of the Republicans in the House of Representatives (in those days “big spending Republican” would have been considered a contradiction in terms – unless one was talking about Republicans from the North East).
The Great Society programs started off small (Medicare and Medicaid started off as five billions for both in 1965) but, of course, they became vast and the Republicans then were right to resist them (how many hundreds of billions of dollars do Medicare and Medicaid cost now?).
Indeed there was even a sort of victory at one point. Medicare came in as voluntary on the States – i.e. a State government did not have to accept the Federal taxpayers money (the program is partly funded by the Federal government, partly by the State governments) if it did not want it. And one State (correctly fearing that the program would grow and grow – meaning the State government would have to pay more and more) refused to join – that was the, then conservative, State of Arizona (if memory serves Arizona finally fell in 1978 – due to a Democrat Governor who came into office due to a campaign of lies against local bakeries, of all things).
As President Gerald Ford earned the nickname ‘Captain Veto’ for the number of times he used his veto on spending bills from Congress (as well as the New York Daily News headline on his attitude to the bailout, on top of existing subsidies, for New York City – “Ford to City: Drop Dead”).
Of course, some of the veto’s were overturned. But (to quote a the French television show of my youth ‘The Flashing Blade’) “it is better to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all”.
Gerald Ford was certainly than President Bush – who never seems to veto anything (other than stem cell stuff). Indeed, as far as the control of government spending is concerned, the White House might as well be unoccupied as there does not seem to be a President living there at the moment. Still President Bush now has a chance to mend his ways – he now has a Democrat controlled Congress to veto.
President Ford was well guided by William Simon (one of the few good appointments that Richard Nixon made) on the fight against government spending and regulation (including the crazy price controls of President Nixon). And whilst some of the anti-inflation policies were silly (such as the absurd “WIN” – “whip inflation now” badges) the money supply did start to get under control (President Ford supported the tightening by the Federal Reserve Board) and so of course did inflation. Although inflation was less difficult to see in the 1970′s America – it tended to be more ‘prices in the shops’ inflation, whereas now it tends to be more asset price inflation (first real estate and now the stock market) so at least people could not fool themselves that they were living in l;ow inflation times’ in the 1970′s.
The Nixon pardon? I will leave that to others, other than to say that all the things that Richard Nixon did had been standard practice since President Roosevelt’s day – if he should have gone to jail, why should not FDR, Truman, JFK and LBJ not gone to jail?
As for the debates. Yes Gerald Ford was the worst President debater of all time. Eastern Europe (specifically Poland) not under Soviet domination – and it was not once, it was several times that he said thing weird things to that effect.
I doubt that President Ford really believed that – he just fell apart in the debates.
Ronald Reagan would not have done that. He did not do that even in 1984 against Walter Mondale when the leftists all say he was senile, he certainly would not have done that against Carter in 1976.
Nor would Reagan have carried the baggage of the Nixon pardon, and he was a better campaigner anyway. For example, both Ford and Reagan opposed the teacher union plan (supported by Carter) for a Federal ‘Department of Education’ (the budget of which has, of course, vastly grown since President Carter introduced it), but Reagan could make the case against the proposal in a way that Gerald Ford could not.
So, yes, Ronald Reagan should have been the candidate in 1976. It would have spared the nation, and the world, President James Earl Carter.