Thursday, January 04, 2007

Our Republic Lives

On Tuesday I spent a lot of time (quantity, not quality time) with my wife and five children in three airports, thanks to an equipment snafu at a small regional airport that caused us to miss our connecting flight. Although we all finally arrived home at 1:30 AM on Wednesday rather than 1:30 PM on Tuesday, we were all safe (if quite bored and tired), and none of our luggage was lost.

As a side note, it’s pretty easy to get one or two people onto another flight, but when you start talking seven people, that’s another story. We ended up splitting into two groups (a group of three and a group of four) to fly back on two different flights.

Throughout the day, the TVs in the various airports in which we sat blared an endless and repetitive stream of coverage of the nation mourning for the passing of President Ford. I mused about the dichotomy of the less auspicious passing (via execution) of former Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein. The timing of the deaths of these two national leaders present two very different experiences.

One of my sons asked why our nation was making such a big hullabaloo about President Ford’s funeral. He noted that Ford had never been elected to be Vice President or President, and that Ford had served as President for less than 2½ years. To top it off, that was all ancient history to my son, since Ford’s presidency wrapped up many years before my son’s birth.

I puzzled about it for a moment, and then I concluded that what we were really doing was celebrating was the fact that our republic really does work. Our method of governance is imperfect. It is continually fraught with problems and conflict. Its leadership ranks are filled with imperfect people. But it is designed to weather the inevitable storms well.

Our nation faced dark days as it became clear that President Nixon had overstepped the boundaries of tolerable behavior and that he was, in fact, what he said he was not (i.e. “I am not a crook.”). Despite declining popularity, the man had twice been elected to the presidency by Americans. He still had supporters. Some felt that he had accomplished much good and could continue to do so, despite his problems.

Throughout world history, the most common method of replacing an unacceptable national leader has been violence and bloodshed. Although the times were dark, that didn’t happen in modern America. Gerald Ford was the man tapped to step up and fill the vacuum. Peggy Noonan says (here) that Ford “was a decent man, and that was just what the country needed.” She says he brought dignity and normalcy to the presidency. I wonder if she remembers how much the MSM and pop culture harangued Ford for his inarticulate gaffes and occasional clumsiness.

Noonan notes that Ford’s most unpopular move was the pardon of Richard Nixon. With hindsight, she now says that “he threw himself on a grenade to protect the country from shame, from going too far.” Noonan says the left should be grateful that Ford kept them from exposing their sadism.

But Noonan is critical of Ford’s lack of vision. She says that Ford’s presidency proved that a leader must be more than simply good. A leader must provide a vision. Ford was a decent caretaker, but he lacked the quintessential ingredient of forward vision. His decision to seek the GOP nomination in 1976 was a significant factor in allowing Jimmy Carter to become the worst President and ex-President in modern history.

As I stared at images of phalanxes of shiny black vehicles cruising down the streets of Washington, D.C., a flag-draped casket, once-important white-haired men in suits, and articulate news babes with extreme makeup on their faces talking about events they knew little about, I realized that we were doing much more than honoring a man that had served as our President for a brief period. I realized that we were honoring our republic. In a way, we were honoring our nation’s Founders and the vision they successfully implemented.

I am reminded of the closing lines of the second verse of the song, America the Beautiful:

America! America! God mend thine ev'ry flaw;
Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law!

Rest in peace, President Ford. Long live the Republic!


That One Guy said...

"...celebrating was the fact that our republic really does work."

Nice essay, Reach.

It's not perfect, but it works, generally.


Democracy Lover said...

I think it's more likely that the American people don't really care about Ford and many hardly remember him. The media saw an opportunity to milk this event for ratings and give us a patriotic show designed to engender exactly the sentiment you have expressed.

If our nation was a strong and healthy as you suggest, we would have long ago removed and replaced our current President whose high crimes and misdemeanors far outstrip those of Richard Nixon. Perhaps if we had spent more time delving into the unconstitutional acts of Nixon, we would have less tolerance for the far more unconstitutional acts of Bush.

Ford certainly deserved our thanks for his service, but we need to reflect on why we have failed to learn the lessons of Watergate and failed to learn the lessons of Vietnam. The TV networks with their infotainment presentation of national issues are partially responsible.

Cameron said...

I think it's more likely that the American people don't really care about Ford and many hardly remember him

A ray of sunshine, DL, as always. :)

Reach Upward said...

DL, I have to agree with TOG. It ain't perfect, but it works. I don't see any other major nation on the face of this planet that works as well. That doesn't mean we should overlook problems. Surely each of us should work within the realm of our capabilities to correct the problems that do exist in our society.

Democracy Lover said...

I don't think the US is particularly unique in regard to "working well". We certainly were unique earlier in our history and we have much to be proud of, but now we are being overtaken in many areas by other nations. We need to regain the lead in democracy, freedom of expression, human rights, and equal opportunity that we once proudly enjoyed.

Reach Upward said...

DL, I think you are correct that we need to regain our heritage in many areas, including democracy and individual freedom.

However, I do not believe we have a particularly strong history of equality of opportunity. The beginning of the Republic introduced a concept that was totally new for most of the Western world: that nobody was naturally better than anyone else. It denied aristocracy and primogeniture, which had been common throughout the Western world (and most of the rest of the world) up to that point. If that's what you mean by our history of equality of opportunity, you have a good point.

But the U.S. has always been a meritocracy. And it took a war and a century of Jim Crowe before we generally disavowed racial superiority. There was nothing honorable about denying entire groups of people equality of opportunity. That's not a history to which we want to return.