When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency
Let us now praise Gerald Ford, said Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard. The only U.S. president who never won a national election was an anomaly among politicians: “He was kind, he was humble. He sought to get along with everyone and usually succeeded.” And when he entered the White House after Richard Nixon’s fall, the former Republican House leader helped rebuild trust in the presidency, as even Democrats admitted. Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Ford’s first chief of staff and second defense secretary, has now written a “wonderful” book that seconds the assessment of the pundit who once said of Ford that he was “the kind of president Americans always wanted—and didn’t know they had.”
Not every reader will trust Rumsfeld’s judgment, said Steve Donoghue in OpenLettersReview.com. When he assures us, for example, that Ford was right to pardon Nixon and spare the nation a drawn-out trial, we are being asked to trust the same man who, in his second run as defense secretary, helped lead post-9/11 America into a disastrous war in Iraq. But Rumsfeld has always been a fierce notetaker, and his detailed account of the Ford years proves “extremely engaging from start to finish.” The book acknowledges missteps—including Ford’s silly “Whip Inflation Now!” buttons, said Ed Bradley in The Washington Times. But Rumsfeld ultimately credits Ford with taming inflation, as well as with restoring America’s post-Vietnam standing in the world.
Such arguments can’t obscure that the Ford era was “generally unexciting,” said Walter Isaacson in The Washington Post. Rumsfeld compounds the problem by failing to look much beyond his own notes. Still, it’s heartening to read about a president who looked past partisan considerations when he decided that the U.S. had a moral obligation to provide a home to 100,000 refugees displaced by the Vietnam War. Because it’s so hard today to imagine we’ll ever again have a president of such humility, integrity, and compassion, “it’s nice to be reminded this was also hard to imagine in the darkest days of the Nixon presidency.” ■