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Former President Ford Laid to Rest

January 2, 2007 at 6:20 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: Now some thoughts about Gerald Ford from Shields and Brooks, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, New York Times columnist David Brooks.

David, President Bush said that the country needed Gerald Ford at that time. The question, of course, is: Is there a relevance for the same kind of need in the country now, for a healer president, a healer national figure?

DAVID BROOKS, Columnist, New York Times: Well, clearly that’s been the reaction to the death. The main theme has been his healing abilities. They could have picked out many different aspects of his life, but it was that.

And the pardon, which is now universally celebrated, the idea that he could move the country beyond partisanship, that is clearly what a lot of people want. Whether we’re going to get there, I’m not sure.

I think one thing he represented was Midwestern values. He grew up in a time when the Midwest was not only the population heart of the country, but also the economic heart of the country. And he represented a style of politics which is dominant in the Upper Midwest and remains dominant, of moderation, relatively non-ideological, politics is about conversation and doing deals.

And even when he was a member of the legislature, it was about conversations, friendships across the line, living here in the Washington area, and having social relationships with people in the opposing party. That sort of stuff doesn’t happen that much.

But I do think he represented the Midwest and that style of politics, which may be due for a comeback.

JIM LEHRER: Do you agree that there are Midwestern values with Gerald Ford? Does that resonate with you?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Oh, I think he’s quintessentially Midwestern. I mean, I think there were Truman-like qualities to him.

There was a total lack of any pretense, bombast, no self-importance to him. He was always Jerry. He introduced himself as Jerry Ford. I mean, that’s who he was.

I mean, he said hello to elevator operators on Capitol Hill. Presidents don’t do that; senators don’t do that; most congressmen don’t do that.

Ford manages to remain 'nice'

David Brooks
New York Times
He was very much a Main Street Midwesterner, small-town guy, and yet he hung around with corporate executives, he hung around with political leaders, and didn't really lose the natural Main Street, unassuming guy he'd always been.

JIM LEHRER: I was interested in what you said earlier today, Mark, that Gerald Ford was appointed vice president. He was appointed president. He never ran for president or vice president, so he never went the course, the tough course that might have caused him to be a less nice man than he turned out to be.

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I'm ambivalent on this, because I think the best test for being president is running for president, because many of the qualities that I want in a president -- I think that most of us want in the president -- the ability to handle pressure, to make tough judgments, not always with full information -- are tested in a long and grueling presidential campaign.

But I think that desire, that lifelong ambition to be president, which starts as they're snapping their senior high school pictures, in some cases earlier, and that every move therefore is calibrated after, that was not the case with Gerald Ford.

I mean, Gerald Ford was elected president. He was elected 97-3 by the Senate, and, what, 400-35 by the House. I mean, those who knew him best chose him to be vice president of the United States. I mean, that's -- which is probably -- you know, that's peer review of the first order.

JIM LEHRER: But could a, quote, "nice person" of a Gerald Ford quality -- I'm talking personally now -- make it in the politics of the 2000s?

DAVID BROOKS: I think they could. I think nice people tend to succeed in Washington, as in most aspects of life, because if you're not nice, people do have a way of sidelining you. I think most people who rise tend to be nice.

And what struck me about this ceremony today was the mixing of social classes. He was very much a Main Street Midwesterner, small-town guy, and yet he hung around with corporate executives, he hung around with political leaders, and didn't really lose the natural Main Street, unassuming guy he'd always been.

And what struck me about him was how American this whole ceremony was. Even the selections of the readings and the hymns, which he did himself...

JIM LEHRER: Yes, he did that himself.

DAVID BROOKS: Every single one of them was forward-looking and uplifting. Every single one was optimistic. And that is so quintessential of his generation and of his region that I think that sort of tapping into deep American, Norman Rockwell values is something people would go for today as much as ever.

Running against Mr. Jimmy Carter

Mark Shields
Syndicated Columnist
He'd never run for anything larger -- think about this -- than in Grand Rapids, the 5th District of Michigan, all right? And now he's running for president of the United States.

JIM LEHRER: Mark, you were keen on a jingle that, an advertising jingle...

MARK SHIELDS: I'm keen on the fact that the campaign -- he'd never run national office. He'd never run for anything larger -- think about this -- than in Grand Rapids, the 5th District of Michigan, all right? And now he's running for president of the United States.

Not only is he running for president, he first has to run against the most formidable candidate that his party produces in a generation, if not a half a century, a man who wins 44 states when he gets the nomination, in 49 the next, Ronald Reagan. He has to beat him to get the nomination.

He's 33 points behind, 10 weeks to go. John Deardorrf and Doug Bailey, who were doing his media, Stu Spencer, who was his strategist, Jim Baker, I mean, they're up against the wall. And he runs, as David said, a campaign totally consistent with his values and his own history. It was an upbeat campaign.

JIM LEHRER: You're talking about the nomination race or the general election race against Jimmy Carter?

MARK SHIELDS: I'm talking about the general election race against Jimmy Carter. He's 33 points behind with 10 weeks to go. A point is 800,000 votes. He's 26 million votes behind. And they run a very upbeat, "I'm not FDR, I'm not Abraham Lincoln, but I'm not Watergate, and I'm not Vietnam. I'm not Johnson and Nixon." And this song that....

'I'm feeling good about America'

David Brooks
The New York Times
This [election] is eight years after Woodstock. This is after Janis Joplin. This is after Jimi Hendrix. This is about the time of John Travolta and 'Saturday Night Fever.'

JIM LEHRER: Let's listen to it. It's 1976. Campaign song is called "I'm Feeling Good about America," and it was performed by Oscar Brand.

OSCAR BRAND, Musician (singing): There's a change that's come over America, a change that's great to see. We're going back to work again. It's better than it used to be.

I'm feeling good about America, and I feel it everywhere I go. I'm feeling good about Gerald Ford, and I'm feeling good about me. I'm feeling good about Gerald Ford, and I'm feeling good about me.

JIM LEHRER: Politics is not the same, is it?

MARK SHIELDS: It sure isn't. I mean, it was a brilliant campaign.

JIM LEHRER: It worked, did it not?

MARK SHIELDS: It worked. It came a switch of 11,000 votes in two states, Ohio and Mississippi, and he would have been re-elected. Talk about the greatest comeback. Forget Harry Truman. It was just an amazing comeback.

DAVID BROOKS: This is eight years after Woodstock. This is after Janis Joplin. This is after Jimi Hendrix. This is about the time of John Travolta and "Saturday Night Fever."

They're running a song that sounds like it's 1932, and that is harkening back to something else. And that's a powerful cultural message, even the guitar. You take away the words; just the guitar alone is powerful.

JIM LEHRER: Absolutely. OK, thank you very much.