Ford, for those of you too young to remember, was the last of the "old" Republicans. He was a fiscal conservative--a term which did not then mean tax cuts for the rich financed by borrowing from our grandchildren--and a social liberal who was consistent and forthright about his support for reproductive choice and equal rights for gays and lesbians. In his later life, he was part of the well-meaning but inaccurately named GOP "Unity" committee that tried without success to move the party back to its more libertarian roots.
I Feel So Old........
Ford had assumed office when Nixon resigned. When he subsequently ran for a full term, it was 1976, a year that proved to be a turning point for the Grand Old Party. The 1976 Republican platform was the last to support the Equal Rights Amendment, and the first to support passage of a constitutional amendment banning abortion, although it must be noted that the language of the abortion plank encouraged "a continuance of public dialogue" and was respectful of the contending moral views involved, a tone entirely absent from the strident language employed by the party's more recent moral scolds.
The 1976 Platform contained other provisions that seem ironic from our current perspective; consider the following language from the section on "Right to Privacy."
"We are alarmed by Washington's growing collection of information...Safeguards must protect us against this information being misused or disclosed. Law enforcement authorities must be able to pursue criminal violators, yet there should be reasonable controls imposed to protect the privacy of law-abiding citizens. ..Too many government records are unnecessarily classified."
Or this, from a section on "Equal Rights."
"Hispanic-Americans must not be treated as second-class citizens in schools, employment or any other aspect of life just because English is not their first language."
Even allowing for the mealy-mouth formulations that characterize all political platforms, it is hard to reconcile the 1976 platform with today's GOP. It is impossible to imagine the party nominating a Gerald Ford today.
Ford was not a perfect President. I think his pardon of Nixon was the right thing to do, but many disagree. There are other grounds for criticisms. But he was competent (an attribute we haven't adequately appreciated until George W. Bush), and his endorsement of equality for women and gays was clearly based upon principle, not political calculation. He represented a faction of the GOP, now virtually extinct, that believed in a "pay as you go" government, fully accountable to the American people for doing well those things that are legitimately government's responsibility. Providing parks and roads, conducting the national defense, and acting as impartial umpire in economic matters were government's job; dictating citizens' religious, reproductive, or sexual behaviors wasn't.
I really miss Gerald Ford's Republican Party. I think a lot of other people do too.
(Cross-posted to American Values Alliance)