“Jerry Ford was a congenital truth-teller.”
David Gergen – Eyewitness to Power
“A peacefulness follows any decision, even the wrong one.”
Rita Mae Brown
“It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”
Recently, when I shared my goal of writing 150 blogs, someone said to me, “What’s that going to do? It won’t give you anything!” I would be lying if I said that didn’t hurt. I would be lying again if I said I didn’t have the same thought.
What does one do when others cast doubts and aspersions on one’s chosen path? What does one do when one share those doubts. There’s actually an historical precedent for this in the story of Gerald R. Ford. Ford was our 38th President and the only President to not be elected as President or Vice-President. He was appointed during the scandal-ridden Richard Nixon administration, when Nixon’s first Vice-President, Spiro Agnew was forced to resign for his own crimes of tax evasion and accepting bribes.
Ford was then appointed. The interesting thing about Ford was that due to a constant stream of scandalous behavior coming from the White House, Ford became perhaps the most thoroughly investigated politician in U.S. history. Nobody wanted another criminal, especially when it seemed inevitable that he would be President. Even his grade school teachers were questioned. This excerpt from the 1,700 page report came from the Gerald Ford Library:
In order to determine the suitability of Gerald Ford for this high office, the committees looked to investigations by the FBI, IRS, and House and Senate Committee investigators. The FBI investigation, commencing on October 15, 1973, and lasting through November 20th, carried out by hundreds of special agents, consisted of interviews of more than one thousand individuals, checks on financial information, criminal records, employment and education history, personal character, organization membership, marriage, and credit. The investigators were also interested in the background of Ford’s family members and associates.
Special agents canvassed Alexandria, Virginia (the location of Ford’s home in the Washington, D.C., area), Washington, D.C., and in Michigan, Grand Rapids (Ford’s hometown) and Detroit. Inquiries were made with politicians, judges, attorneys, local officials, law enforcement agents, educators, clergy, civil rights and labor leaders, members of organizations Ford was affiliated with, businesspersons and professionals. FBI special agents conducted interviews in 29 other cities as well. The FBI included in the report the field office reports of Gerald Ford’s background investigation produced in relation to his unsuccessful 1941 application for appointment as an FBI special agent.
When Ford became President on August 9, 1974, he declared, “Our long national nightmare is over.” People were relieved and thrilled to have a fresh start. Ford was charming and handsome and people were willing to give him a chance…until one month later. That was when Ford granted Nixon
(a) full, free, and absolute pardon…. for all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from July (January) 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.
Ford cited a desire to put Watergate behind him along with the belief that a fair trial would be impossible and might further damage Nixon’s health. This pardon rocked the nation. Ford’s press secretary resigned and most people assumed there was a secret deal. That seemed to be an obvious conclusion. Fortunately, it was an incorrect one. Ford really did want the country to move on to other business. He knew that a trial would be sensationalistic, divisive and would only open up old and recent wounds.
Was Ford right to do what he did? According to the laws of Purpose, yes. He had a clear vision of what he wanted. He wanted to deal with the economic issues of the day. He wanted to unite the nation. So, he ended something that would interfere with his agendum. Not surprisingly, the country turned on him. Two years and two months later, Jimmy Carter was elected as the 39th President.
Still, history vindicated Ford. Even political opponents like Democrat Ted Kennedy later admitted that Ford was right to pardon Nixon. And Carter, on his inauguration said, “For myself and for our Nation, I want to thank my predecessor for all he has done to heal our land.”
Despite the later accolades, there are lessons to be considered here. Being in Purpose might mean making unpopular or unwelcome choices. It might mean spending time away from family and friends. It might mean less time to relax. It might mean making others temporarily unhappy. I believe it was Jean Chatzky who said in The Difference, “If you want to be a lot more comfortable later, you have to be a little bit uncomfortable now.” She was talking about money, but this applies to any goal.
Another lesson is that Purpose does not necessarily have to be pursued alone. Couples, families and organizations can and should have Purpose and cohesiveness. Political commentator David Gergen stated in his book, Eyewitness to Power, that it was Ford’s timing and lack of counsel that was the problem, more than the decision itself. This is another lesson – Purpose approached by minds and hearts in agreement and unity can be even more effective.
Ford’s decision was vindicated not only in history, but also in his lifetime. He said he didn’t want to be a great president, but a good one. And he was. He knew how to Get Started and Keep Going.