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Former President Gerald Ford’s Legacy Remembered

In his brief presidency, Gerald Ford, who died Tuesday at age 93, struggled to heal the nation after the Watergate scandal forced his predecessor Richard Nixon from office. Four historians and scholars reflect on Mr. Ford, his presidency and his legacy.

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    We're joined by presidential historian Michael Beschloss; Ellen Fitzpatrick, professor of American history at the University of New Hampshire; Richard Norton Smith, presidential historian and former director of the Gerald R. Ford Museum and Library; and Ron Nessen, President Ford's press secretary from 1974 to 1977, and the author of the memoir "It Sure Looks Different from the Inside." Mr. Nessen currently is a journalist-in-residence at the Brookings Institution.

    Richard Norton Smith, on the day he resigned, Richard Nixon said, "The leadership of America will be in good hands." Did Gerald Ford know what he was getting into?

  • RICHARD NORTON SMITH, George Mason University:

    I'm not sure anyone really knows what they're getting into under the best of circumstances, and those were the worst of circumstances.

    I mean, as we've heard all day, the worst constitutional crisis, certainly of the 20th century, soon to be the worst economy since the Great Depression, the last months of the Vietnam war, and a pervasive, I think, cynicism that had grown up — not just because of the Vietnam and Watergate, important as they were — but this was a country that had been in cultural upheaval, really, since the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.

    And all of this was dumped upon this, in many ways, unsuspecting — although, in retrospect, perhaps ideally suited — congressman from west Michigan.