Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 3, 1975 · Page 73
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 73

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 3, 1975
Page 73
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Jerry Ford's Freshman Year By Frank Cormier /t«socia(ed Pre*» Writer WASHINGTON AP - After a year in the White House, President Ford remains "Jerry" to some old friends. He'd rather hear the Michigan fight song than "Hail to the Chief." And, like other men. he puts on his pants one leg at a time. True, Ford usually doesn't toast his own breakfast muffins anymore. And Navy enlisted men scoop out his lunchtime ration of butter pecan ice cream. Even so, Gerald Ford has changed the White House, as an institution, far more than it has changed him. A political veteran, but one who never collected more than 119,000 votes in any election, Ford became the nation's first unelected President a year ago next Saturday. The abrupt resignation of Richard Nixon propelled him into an office half immobilized by the scandal called Watergate: Ford did not seek out the job, but he has come to relish it. Fifteen months hence, he presumably will need at least 35 million votes if he's going to keep it. He already is running hard, without giving evidence of running scared. Although a Marine in dress uniform remains on guard outside the White House offices, a reminder of Nixon's efforts to add imperial trappings to the presidency, the imprint of earnest, unassuming, plainspoken Jerry Ford predominates. The lone Marine is one of the few remaining symbols of Nixon's reclusive reign. An exorcist has been at work, pushing Nixon and his- scandal into the shadows. . More than anyone else, Ford can lay claim to being the exorcist, by virtue of the unconditional pardon he gave his predecessor last September. The move seemed politically disastrous at the time and, in fact. Ford has yet to regain his pre- pardon popularity. In retrospect, however, he achieved what he set out to do: Nixon and Watergate no longer dominate front pages, as they surely would have done had the former president faced trial. At a Chicato news conference last month. Ford was asked to recite his "biggest personal accomplishments and failings as President." First, he replied: "We have restored public confidence in the White House and in the executive branch of government." Some might argue it will take longer than 12 months to repair the damage wrought by Watergate. Nevertheless, "honest" is a word that's used often when people here describe Ford. It lends substance to what otherwise might seem an immodest claim. Other terms commonly applied to Ford include likeable, candid, open and friendly -- not to mention balding. A President, however, cannot survive politically on a smile and a shoeshine. Fortunately for candidate Ford, he also is described with increasing frequency as capable and smart -- a leader As he took oath of office, Jerry Ford faced tremendous obstacles. Southeast Asia wiped Ford's slate clean of an enormous inherited burden. The nation was troubled but relieved. Events in Asia did prompt questioning, here and abroad, of the worth of U.S. commitments. Thailand and the Philippines, once firm allies, began steering more independent courses. Then, armed Cambodians set the stage for a psychological revival of the American spirit by seizing the U.S. merchant ship Mayaguez. The result: five successful Ford vetoes of Democratic-sponsored legislation he deemed unwise or too costly. House Democrats, it became apparent, were so numerous -- and independent -- that their leaders could not weld them into a cohesive force in major tests of strength with the President. At the moment, one might say FoVd acted quickly to rescue tne this is the-summer of Ford s con- ship and its crewmen by force O f arms. Critics contended tentment. Everything isn't going just the way he'd like, but compared with before, it's wine-and- roses time. · Out of adversity have come many of Ford's recent gains -- gains that have pushed him ahead of all potential Democratic challengers, including Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts, in public opinion "trial heats" anticipating next year's election. While the President enjoyed a working vacation in Palm Springs, Calif.. Cambodia and South Vietnam headed inexorably toward the abyss. The loss of anti-Communist regimes in those countries, after the United States had invested 50,000 lives and more than $150 billion in their survival; constituted the nation's most traumatic foreign policy defeat. Some say Ford'displayed less than a sure hand in dealing with the disaster .He and Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger reacted initially by suggesting the Democratic- controlled Congress was at fault for refusal to pour added millions into Southeast Asia. As if to underscore this, the President asked for authority to ship $722 million in arms to South Vietnam at a time when even administration officials saw the situation as hopeless. R e b u f f e d , Ford changed his tune and declared there should be no recriminations. In the final analysis, defeat in the President used excessive force to achieve an objective that perhaps did not really require the loss of airmen and Marines^ But the vast majority of Americans,-eager for any evidence that their country had not become a paper tiger, applauded with emotion. Many allies joined in welcoming Ford's show of resolve. The Middle East situation also developed to the benefit of the new President. In March, Kissinger's shuttle diplomacy in search of a new Egyptian-Israeli agreement ended in apparent failure. Acting with energetic purpose, Ford jourr neyed to Salzburg, Austria, to je- vive settlement hopes at an Old World summit with Egypt's Anwar Sadat. A Washington meeting with Israel's Yitzhak Rabin followed. ^ Although no quick solution emerged, Ford won points for leadership. Perhaps equally important, his direct involvement in the peace search tended to push him out from under the shadow of the Celebrated Kissinger, his tutor but not his master. At home, the Republican election disaster of last fall -- which saw the Democrats gain 43 seats in the House -- proved to be something of a disguised blessing for Ford. Although the President had campaigned actively against election of a "veto-proof," Democratic Congress, the new Congress turned out to be veto-prone instead of veto- proof. Even the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930's paid summertime dividends for Ford. Despite continued high unemployment, by mid-year the economy showed definite signs of recovery -- a situation that inevitably helped the incumbent President. In January, a sober-minded Ford went before Congress and, promising only "bad news," bluntly declared: "The state of the union is not good." Such candor boosted Ford's stock as a truthsayer, but it did nothing to lighten a national mood of doubt and uncertainty. Now, six months later, the outlook has changed markedly. Ford's January message is obsolete. The President himself is so confident and optimistic that, when asked in Chicago to list personal accomplishments and failings, only successes came to his tongue. Ford's questioner wasn't satisfied and demanded to know about failings, too. Ford replied: "I will leave that to my opponents.. I don't think there have been many." Perhaps Ford would agree that his greatest failure to date has been his inability Jo reach agreement with Congress on a comprehensive, meaningful energy program. But he blames Congress for that, accusing Senate and House Democrats of "drift, dawdle and debate." The President insists on discouraging consumption and encouraging the development of alternate fuels by boosting the price of petroleum. Congressional Democrats . seem incapable of agreeing on an alternative course, but reject higher prices on grounds they add to inflation. Although pollsters currently disagree on the state of Ford's popularity, all appear to rate him the present favorite over any Democrat in sight. Ford perhaps is more troubled at the moment by the very real possibility that he will be challenged within Republican ranks by former California Gov. Ronald Reagan. Although even the earliest party primaries are eight months away, the embryo Reagan candidacy is claiming much of the President's attention. Even before formally declaring his own candidacy last month, Ford moved to counter Reagan by enlisting a conservative Southerner and a onetime disciple of Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona to direct his campaign organization. The depth of Ford's concern '·. about Reagan is further under: scored by repeated hints that he's : reluctantly jettisoned Vice President Nelson A. Rockefeller, anathema to many GOP conservative, if that became necessary to secure his own nomination. Meanwhile, the President is balancing prestige-building trips abroad with campaign-style forays at home in an early bid to strengthen himself for the political battles ahead. It may be far too early to predict the issues around which the 1976 presidential race will revolve. At the moment, however, Ford has two main targets as he speeds up his own low-key campaigning: the federal government and the Democratic Congress. Government is criticized as too big, too costly, too omnipresent. The Congress is hammered for being -- well, the Congress. If that appears to be a conservative Republican approach, it is. Gerald Ford wants it understood that anything Reagan .can do, he can do better. If he gets that message across, there will be time enough later to worry about Humphrey, Muskie, Jackson, Udall, Carter, Bentsen, and Bayh. y, W. VA.:im ·

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