Saturday, November 22, 2008

Write It When I'm Gone by Thomas M. DeFrank

At the beginning of Thomas M. DeFrank’s book, he describes his interview with soon to be Vice President Gerald Ford. Throughout, Ford smoked a pipe. He also apparently was a big drinker. Ten pages into Write It When I’m Gone and the only unelected president in history is about ten times more interesting that I first thought.

DeFrank was part of the press that followed Ford on Air Force Two and then through his time in the W
hite House. The two were fairly close, and beginning in 1991 he conducted interviews to only be published after Ford’s death. Supposedly, Ford would be open to discussing anything without reservations since he wouldn’t see any of it in print, but as anyone with half a brain would know, he protected his legacy as much as the next guy.

Ford always hated Reagan after the latter challenged him for the nomination in 1976, and occasionally he’d let something slip, though not anything of note. The big story in this book was his unreported conversation with President Clinton during his impeachment. The Administration
wanted Ford’s support, but he wouldn’t budge unless Clinton admitted publicly that he was wrong. Didn’t happen, Ford stayed on his couch, end of story.

Personally, I’ve always though Ford made a horrible decision when he pardoned Nixon. In his inaugural address, he claimed that the national nightmare was over and that the process was proof that the American people were still in charge of the nation. But by pardoning Nixon, he took the will of the people, as demonstrated by the support for the judicial system, out of their hands, and set a precedent that presidents wouldn’t actually be accountable for their crimes.

DeFrank quotes Ford: ‘Younger people today who were not living or not old enough to know have no comprehension of the tension and bitterness that existed through the US.’ As one of those people, I’ll concede the point. But I have to really question whether or not his decision was really a solution or merely a way to treat a symptom.

I try not to be very political in this space, but the analogy to President Bush is fairly clear. Though people on the left have been calling for Bush and others to be prosecuted for breaking the law and lying to the public, facts that the president has acknowledged himself, popular opinion doesn’t seem to support such a move. Yet right and wrong aren’t determined by popular opinion (theoretically), so in fact the Justice Department, acting as the prosecutorial arm of the American people, is bound to exercise its power.

However, in all honesty, I don’t think that Bush going to prison would be good for the nation at the present time. President-Elect Obama has the chance to take the country in a new direction, and getting bogged down in hearing after hearing over the Bush Administration scandals would take awy from the things he might be able to achieve. That said, I have to question my own sentiments, for my historical perspective is hard on Ford for having the same opinion (though of course he actually had power to do something about his).

Write It When I’m Gone is an entertaining, if unfulfilling, look at the person Gerald Ford was. At times DeFrank’s obvious affection for the man makes any sort of objective point of view impossible, yet despite this one feels it isn’t all that unfair. Ford seemed to be a good person, the sort of person that might not be the most interesting, but would almost certainly be he most kind and loyal. It doesn’t live up to its billing, but I didn’t find it a waste of time either.

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