George H.W. Bush by Timothy Naftali

President #41, C-SPAN Historians Ranking #18

In the name of the father …

George Herbert Walker Bush (not that anybody called him that when he was President except when he was sworn in) did not have an easy act to follow, succeeding one of America’s most popular Chief Executives in Ronald Reagan. He came into office in a time when the entire post World War II world was changing in incredible ways. There were economic problems. And there was a war to be fought (but was it to be won?)

At one point during his Presidency, George Bush had an approval rating of 88 percent according to a Gallup Poll. And when he ran for reelection, few people were surprised that Bill Clinton soundly defeated him.

Timothy Naftali, who was written about U.S.-Soviet relations, and now serves as the director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, has the unenviable job of trying to figure out just where George Bush fit into the grand scheme of the rapidly changing world from 1989 through 1993. It is a difficult job to put a living figure just 16 years out of office with a far more famous son; but, I enjoyed Naftali’s presentation. He managed to distill the life of a man with a long resume and a Presidency filled with events of great import into an interesting narrative. You can see how George H. W. Bush (he dropped the initials before going into politics and then added them back to his name after George W. Bush became President in 2001) fits into the post Cold War world.

I did notice though it is impossible to write about George H.W. Bush without writing about Ronald Reagan or George W. Bush.  Much of George H.W. Bush’s life is circumscribed by his predecessor and his son. Naftali runs into this problem too. The last chapter of the book is more about Bush 43 than Bush 41 it seems.

George Bush was born in Milton, Massachusetts on June 12, 1924, the son of Prescott and Dorothy Bush. The Bush family moved to Connecticut when George was quite young. Prescott Bush was a successful businessman and would also go on to serve 11 years in the U.S. Senate.

Like his father, George Bush enrolled at Yale. However, World War II got in the way. Bush postponed his entrance into Yale to become a naval aviator, a feat he achieved just before turning 19. In 1944, Bush’s plane was shot down by Japanese anti-aircraft guns. All of the crew except for Bush perished. Bush was able to parachute to safety.

With the war nearing its end, Bush returned to Yale. He married Barbara Pierce in January of 1945. Bush captained a Yale baseball team that made it to College World Series. He and Barbara produced six children, some of whom went on to some renown (but that’s for a later post.)

It was a tradition in the Bush family for the men to go out on their own and not to rely on their father’s wealth. So, after graduating from Yale, the Bush family headed for Texas. George Bush started an oil drilling business, along with some friends from Yale. It proved to be quite successful and Bush became a millionaire in his own right.

Like his father, George Bush began to show an interest in politics. He decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and run for a seat in the Senate against Democrat Ralph Yarborough in 1964. Bush decided to ally himself with Republican Presidential nominee Barry Goldwater. This strategy raised Bush’s profile nationally, but did not help him in the election. Yarborough won with 56% of the vote.

Two years later, Bush opted to run for a House seat and won. He became the first Republican to represent a Houston district, serving two terms. In 1968, Bush took aim at Yarborough’s Senate seat. However, Lloyd Bentsen defeated Yarborough in the Democratic primary. Bush would lose to Bentsen.

Bush was not through with politics. Richard Nixon rewarded Bush for his efforts in Texas by naming him Ambassador to the United Nations in 1971. Two years later, Bush had an even more difficult job. He was named Chairman of the Republican National Committee as the Watergate crisis was coming to a boil. Bush, as was his nature, stayed loyal to Nixon as long as he could, but even he realized that the longer Nixon stayed in office, the worse off the Republican Party would be.

New President Gerald Ford decided to give Bush a less depressing assignment. In 1974, Ford appointed Bush as the United States Representative to China. (The two nations had not established formal diplomatic relations.) Bush had hoped to be named Ford’s Vice President (and he also had hoped that Nixon would have added him to the ticket in 1972), but that was not to be. Nelson Rockefeller was appointed to the position.

Bush worked in China for a little over a year, but was brought back to the United States to head up the Central Intelligence Agency, which was then under heavy fire after a series of Senate hearings revealed a pattern of illegal or unwarranted activities done by the agency. Bush thought this job would finish him off politically as there was too much baggage attached to it. But, Bush did not want to appear to be disloyal to the President, fearing that it would hurt his chances to run with Ford in 1976.

As it turned out, Ford chose Senator Bob Dole as his running mate in 1976, but lost anyway to Jimmy Carter. Bush offered to remain on as CIA director under Carter, but the new President chose Admiral Stansfield Turner for the job. George Bush was seemingly gone from public view.

Or was he? Bush decided to make a run at the White House in 1980. He adopted Carter’s model and announced early, in 1978. He started organizing in Iowa before the presumptive nominee, Reagan, had made much headway there.  The move paid off and Bush surprised many pundits by winning in Iowa. As Bush proclaimed, he had “the Big Mo!”

However, it all fell apart quickly in the rest of the 1980 campaign. In New Hampshire, Bush got into a situation where he refused to debate all of the Republican contenders, except for Reagan. So, at a debate when the other candidates showed up (Howard Baker, John Anderson, John Connolly, Phil Crane, and Bob Dole),  Bush wouldn’t speak. And when Reagan began to speak, the moderator ordered the microphones cut. Reagan then famously declared, “Mr. Green [the moderator] I paid for this microphone!”

Actually, Reagan hadn’t paid for the microphone. But, it certainly looked like he did. Bush looked meek compared to the forceful Reagan. Reagan won in New Hampshire and cruised to the nomination.

When it came time to pick a nominee for Vice President, Reagan’s first choice was going to be former President Gerald Ford. But, Ford wanted to have unprecedented latitude for someone in the job. Ultimately, both Reagan and Ford realized the idea was unworkable. So, Reagan went for the safe choice, George Bush.

However, there were a few problems. For starters, the two men weren’t close. And during the campaign, Bush had referred to Reagan’s supply side economic plan for the United State as “voodoo economics.” However, Bush showed himself quite adaptable to what the top of the ticket wanted. The 1980 election would be described as “not close.”

As Vice President, Bush quickly had a chance to show that he was up to the job. On March 30, 1981, Ronald Reagan was shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley. In the confusion that ensued, Secretary of State Alexander Haig declared that he was in charge. Except Haig wasn’t. Legally, Reagan was still in charge. But, it was Bush who appeared on TV screens reassuring the public. Bush also declined to use the same privileges (such as special entrances to the White House) that the President was entitled to.

As Reagan recuperated, he began to include Bush in more policy-making decisions. Reagan and Bush won reelection in 1984 in a landslide.

Toward the end of Reagan’s second term, a scandal began to brew. The complex Iran-Contra Scandal would be one of the major blemishes on Reagan’s record. The convoluted plan involved the U.S. government attempting to gain leverage with Hezbollah groups holding American hostages in Lebanon. To accomplish this, the U.S. sold missiles to Iran, through an Israeli intermediary. Then, the plan was changed to sell the arms directly to Iran, but siphon off some of the money to help fund the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

However, it was against the law to give money to the Contras. Nevertheless, the plan was approved. Hezbollah released some hostages, but took more to replace them. It was a bit of a mess. Only two people, National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide, Oliver North, were tried in court in connection with this affair. Although both men were initially convicted, their verdicts were overturned for differing reasons.

Although Bush served on the National Security Council, he somehow managed to avoid any involvement (at least that has been shown to date) in the matter. Whether or not Bush agreed with the aims of the plan is still debated.

1988 would be George Bush’s year. He was the leading candidate for the nomination to replace Reagan. However, no sitting Vice President had been elected President since Martin Van Buren in 1836. Bush’s major opponent would be Robert Dole.  However, television evangelist Pat Robertson also entered the race, changing the dynamic, making the evangelical vote more important.

Dole prevailed in the Iowa caucuses, but Bush came back to win in New Hampshire. After that, it was mostly smooth sailing. On May 12, 1988, Reagan endorsed Bush for the Presidency.

Bush went to the Republican Convention needing to pick a running mate. He settled on Indiana Senator Dan Quayle.  The announcement was far from smooth. Quayle was at the back of a large crowd when the announcement was made and came charging up on to the stage with a great deal of exuberance. However, Bush’s team hadn’t completely vetted Quayle. Questions about Quayle’s avoidance of military service in Vietnam and seeming lack of experience would dog the campaign until Election Day.

During his acceptance speech, Bush decided to appeal to the conservative base of the party when describing how he would handle the rapidly increasing budget deficit. He said, “Read my lips, no more taxes.” It would be a catch phrase that would haunt Bush for his whole administration.

The general election campaign against Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts was decidedly unpleasant. Dukakis, who had started with a huge lead in the polls, quickly frittered it away, mostly by being himself. That is, he was an incredibly dull candidate who managed to make Bush look charismatic.

Bush’s campaign also continued to hit at Dukakis on issues such as prisoner furloughs (the linked ad was not directly paid for by Bush’s campaign), and whether or not Massachusetts school children should be required to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The televised debates involved enlightened questions such as this one.

Dukakis seemed fortunate to win 45.6% of the vote and 111 electoral votes (10 states and the District of Columbia.) Bush was finally able to put the job he always wanted on his resume.

Upon taking office, Bush inherited a major financial crisis. The savings and loan industry, which had been deregulated to some extent in the early 1980s, was facing massive amounts of failures. The S&L’s were allowed to invest in even riskier real estate dealings (they previously had been limited to financing residential property almost exclusively) and other questionable financial practices. The whole industry was on the brink of collapse, as they had to offer higher and higher interest rates to investors, while being unable to raise interest rates to lenders. It would require $161 billion from the Federal Government to clean up the situation.

The S&L bailout only made the budget deficit problem worse. Democrats and moderate Republicans hoped to put into place a package of limited tax increases along with budget cuts.  But, Bush refused to go along with any new taxes because of his campaign pledge. As has been the norm in the American history, the problem was deferred to a later date.

Some issues could not be put off. Bush’s National Security Team, with Secretary of State James Baker and National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, in charge wanted to thoroughly study the changes going on in the Soviet Union before making a commitment to a new policy. But, there was no time for a study. The Iron Curtain fell apart in a matter of months.

Poland’s Communist leaders legalized the Solidarity movement of Lech Walesa in February of 1989. After a brief power sharing agreement, the Communists faded away. Yugoslavia began to split apart along on ethnic lines, although this would prove to be far from a peaceful process. The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia pulled away from the Soviet Union.

The biggest change was in Germany. East Germany, which suffered under one of the most oppressive Communist governments, collapsed in October of 1989. The Berlin Wall, the most visible symbol of Communism, came down. As the rest of the Soviet satellite states sloughed off Communism, so too did the Soviet Union. It broke apart (although some hard-liners tried one last coup for old time’s sake) into independent republics.

Bush was restrained in his initial public statements about the events in Europe. “I’m not an emotional kind of guy,” Bush would say. It seemed odd when the primary foreign policy goal of the United States, particularly Bush’s predecessor, had been met.

However, not all went smoothly in the world of foreign affairs. While Communism in Europe passed away, Communism in China persisted. Demonstrations in the streets of Beijing in May of 1989 were suppressed by the military. The death toll was in the thousands, the exact total never known. Bush sent Scowcroft to Beijing for secret talks to ask for leniency for the protesters. The United States had no leverage though and could do little but complain.

Bush ordered U.S. troops into Panama to arrest Manuel Noriega, the leader of the nation, so he could be tried in the United States for drug trafficking. Operation Just Cause ultimately restored some semblance of order in a country that was once of the strongest allies of the United States.

On August 1, 1990, the Bush Presidency faced its biggest crisis. Iraqi forces invaded and occupied the nation of Kuwait. Saddam Hussein declared that he had annexed Kuwait as part of Iraq. Suddenly, the entire Persian Gulf region was in danger from Saddam’s forces.

At first, the United States sent in forces to Saudi Arabia to help protect the oil-rich nation. This was Operation Desert Shield. Delicate diplomacy in the UN was able to expand the forces in the Gulf Region and give it a UN blessing. Congress approved a joint resolution authorizing the use of force.

On January 17, 1991, Desert Shield became Desert Storm. The Iraqi forces were quickly driven from Kuwait, and they retreated back into Iraq. Bush and his generals faced the decision on whether to continue the battle into Iraq. The decision was to stop. The belief was that a prolonged war in the Persian Gulf was something that the country was not prepared for. (Similarly, I’m not prepared to write about this at length either. Because it would take several thousand more words. And I would get depressed.)

After the success of Desert Storm, Bush soared in his approval ratings. A calamitous drop would soon follow. As Naftali puts it, Bush’s support was wide, but it was not deep. By the time of the election, Bush’s unfavorable ratings were higher than his favorable ones.

Bush’s downfall would be the economy. Despite his pledge of no new taxes, Bush was forced to approve an increase in the income tax and the capital gains tax.  Unemployment went up to 7.8%. Conservative Republicans felt betrayed. They did not believe that Bush was another Reagan. Bush’s approval ratings went on a sharp decline.

During the 1992 campaign, Bush faced a primary challenge in New Hampshire from conservative political pundit Pat Buchanan. Bush won in New Hampshire; but, Buchanan picked up a surprisingly high 37% of the vote. This forced Bush to move farther to the right, a place he was not comfortable.

Further complicating matters was the addition of Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot. Perot mounted a campaign based on a balanced Federal budget and an opposition to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Perot said he would run for President if volunteers could get his name on the ballot in all 50 states.

The Democrats were going to nominate Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. Despite admitted extramarital affairs and his avoidance of military service in Vietnam, Clinton pushed on ahead to seize the nomination easily.

The three-horse race for a while turned into a two-horse race when Perot dropped out, citing interference from the Bush campaign, even accusing Bush’s people of trying to disrupt his daughter’s wedding. Perot would rejoin the race a week later, but now was more or less branded as a flake.

The campaign between Bush and Clinton was quite a contrast. Clinton was the first Baby Boom generation candidate. He had far more charisma than the dour Dukakis of 1988. Also, Clinton was not nearly as liberal as Dukakis, making him a much more palatable choice to a good swath of the country. Bush seemed to be older and out of touch. Clinton won the election by a wide margin in the Electoral College (370-168), although Perot’s participation kept Clinton at just 43% of the popular vote.

Soon after his electoral defeat, Bush’s mother, Dorothy, died at the age of ninety-one. As Bush left office, he gave pardons to many of the principals in the Iran-Contra scandal, including Poindexter, North, and former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. George and Barbara Bush retired to Houston, where the home they hoped to have built for them after he left office in 1993 was not yet finished.

Bush went on speaking tours. One such tour in 1993 took him to Kuwait, where it turned out that the local authorities had foiled a plot by Iraqi operatives to assassinate the former president. This event would be remembered by Bush’s son, George W. Bush.

The Bush family would be heard from again. It would take just eight years.

(Insert dramatic music and pause to create “To be continued…” effect like they do on TV.)

Other stuff: The George Bush Presidential Library and Museum is on the campus of Texas A&M University in College Station. Note that they don’t use any initials in the name.

George H.W. Bush is the only father of a President who saw his son be inaugurated. John Adams was not able to see John Quincy Adams take the oath of office in 1825 because of his advanced age (89).

The Navy’s most recently commissioned aircraft carrier is called the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush. The principal airport in Houston is called George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

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Herbert Hoover by William E. Leuchtenburg

hoover

President #31, C-SPAN Historians ranking #34

The Pac-10 goes to the White House and is not Invited Back

Herbert Hoover seemingly had everything you would want from a President. He was well-educated, with a degree in geology from Stanford. He had traveled the world. He was a successful businessman. He showed he could organize people all over the world to ward off famine.

And when he became President, he was awful. Faced with an unprecedented economic crisis (that was not his fault), Hoover, in crude test pilot/astronaut speech, screwed the pooch. Whatever Hoover had accomplished before in life, was forgotten under the weight of massive unemployment and a shrinking economy,

William E. Leuchtenburg, who has written extensively on the history of the Great Depression, does not paint a sympathetic portrait of Hoover. Instead, Hoover comes across as  vainglorious, although tempered by a desire to serve the public. But, Hoover wanted the public to respect him and love him because he was Herbert Hoover. Out of office,  Hoover turned into a bitter reactionary. But, as Hoover would say in his retirement (he lived until he was 90) about how endured all the taunts, “I just outlived all the bastards.”

Herbert Clark Hoover was born into a Quaker family on August 10, 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. He was orphaned at the age of 10 and sent off to live with an uncle in Oregon. Not surprisingly, Hoover had a very unhappy childhood. His uncle, who had recently lost his son, didn’t find Herbert Hoover a suitable replacement. But, Hoover did get an education. And, in 1891, Hoover was admitted to the first ever class of a new university in California: Leland Stanford Junior University. Hoover’s field of study was geology.

While at Stanford, Hoover found the eye of another woman who was in the geology major. Actually, she was the ONLY woman in the geology major at the time. Her name was Lou (short for Louise) Henry. The two would eventually marry in 1899. In addition to raising two children, Herbert and Lou collaborated on an English translation of the 16th Century textbook on metallurgy called De re metallica.

Hoover was also the student manager of the football team. He is credited with coming up with the idea for the first Cal-Stanford Big Game in March of 1892. Stanford won the first meeting 14-10, although the game was delayed supposedly because Hoover neglected to bring a football with him.

Fresh out of college, Hoover managed to get a job with the English mining firm of Bewick, Moening, and Company. He traveled the world inspecting mines for the company. He became an expert at getting mines that were not meeting production quotas up to speed. By the age of 27, Hoover was a full partner in the firm and moved to London fulltime.

In 1908, Hoover left Bewick and became a consultant. He made millions hopping around the globe trying to get mines to produce more. His style was autocratic, but highly successful.

Leuchtenburg points out that despite Hoover being orphaned at a young age, he didn’t try to be much of a parent to his own two sons. While on his frequent travels, he would communicate infrequently with his children and even his wife.

When World War I began in 1914, Hoover’s public profile shot up. Hoover helped finance the journeys of numerous American expatriates back to the United States. Many had found their lines of credit cut off by banks because of the war. But, the biggest problem Europe faced was hunger.

Belgium was the country where much of the initial fighting took place, and, according, it suffered the most. Hoover managed to convince both the British and German to allow him to bring in relief supplies to prevent a humanitarian crisis. Hoover was also determined to make sure that the relief went directly to the people who needed it, and was not siphoned off to any army. Hoover’s efforts in Belgium made him a worldwide figure.

Once the United States entered the war in 1917, President Woodrow Wilson summoned Hoover back to the United States to head up the newly created Food Administration. Hoover was charged with keeping America’s food supply going to meet the added demand of a war.

Hoover did not want to have to resort to rationing. Instead, he created a small army of volunteers (nearly all of the women) to go door to door to encourage people to forego meat on Mondays or wheat products on Wednesdays. Hoover was given wide latitude by Congress and the President to act as he saw fit. He was dubbed “the food czar.” No matter what the title was, Hoover got results. The United States did not have to force the rationing of food during World War I.

When the war was over, Hoover was possibly the most popular political figure in the United States. Hoover supported Wilson’s efforts during the negotiations at Versailles. He came out in favor of the League of Nations. He opposed the stepped up prosecutions of Communists by Wilson’s Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. Hoover was the darling of the Progressive movement. One prominent Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, hoped that the party could convince Hoover to run for President in 1920.

There was one problem: nobody knew what party Hoover belonged to. Hoover had never explicitly said so. Finally, in the summer of 1920, Hoover announced that he was a Republican. One reason for this was that Hoover did not wish to be identified with racist Southern Democrats. Also, Hoover could see that the Democrats were sure losers in 1920.

After Warren Harding swept into office in the 1920 election, Hoover was offered his choice of Cabinet positions. Hoover opted for the job of Secretary of Commerce. This was an unusual choice as the job had little cachet attached to it. (Can you name the current Secretary of Commerce?)

DSCF0908Hoover revolutionized the office of Secretary of Commerce. He was able to convince the President and Congress to add more responsibilities to the job. Under Hoover, the Commerce Department took control of the Census, the regulation of air travel, and the regulation of radio frequencies. Hoover established commissions to study pretty much any issue that he felt that the Commerce Department might have some responsibility for.

After Calvin Coolidge became President after the death of Harding, Hoover remained in the job. Coolidge did not particularly care for Hoover, sarcastically referring to him as “the Boy Wonder.” But, Hoover could not be replaced. He had made himself indispensible in the eyes of the public.

During the great famine of 1921 in the Soviet Union, Hoover led a relief effort there, despite the objections of many who wanted nothing to do with the Communist regime there. Ironically, Hoover may have done more harm than good. Soviet foreign policy expert George Kennan would later claim that Hoover’s efforts in the USSR served only to legitimize the leadership of Lenin. Hoover would be one of the few Republicans who wanted to normalize relations with the USSR. (This wouldn’t happen until 1933.)

In 1927, one of the largest natural disasters ever to befall the United States hit. It was the Mississippi River Flood. Over 700,000 people had to leave their homes. 27,000 square miles of land were flooded. Over 200 people died.

Hoover was tabbed by Coolidge to head up the relief efforts. This was an area where Hoover did his best. He traveled throughout the affected areas, ordering people to fix problems, not in a week, not in a day, but NOW. Orders were given by Hoover. He expected them to be obeyed. Hoover also made sure that aid was equally distributed to both white and black victims of the flood. This earned him the enmity of some in the South, but further burnished his image with Progressives.

When Calvin Coolidge chose not to run for another term in 1928, Hoover was the presumptive Republican nominee for President. He faced little opposition and had to do little campaigning to win the nomination. Although the Republican Convention was held in Kansas City, it was still not the practice at the time for the candidate to be present to receive the nomination. So, Hoover gave his acceptance speech at Stanford Stadium.

The election of 1928 was no contest. The Democrats nominated New York governor Al Smith, who was the first Catholic nominee from a major party. America was not ready to elect a Catholic, especially one who favored the repeal of Prohibition. Hoover won 58% of the popular vote and 40 of the 48 states. Hoover even won four states of the Confederacy, Texas, Florida, Virginia, and Tennessee, which was quite a feat for that era.

Hoover’s inaugural address was full of high-flying language.

We are steadily building a new race—a new civilization great in its own attainments. The influence and high purposes of our Nation are respected among the peoples of the world. We aspire to distinction in the world, but to a distinction based upon confidence in our sense of justice as well as our accomplishments within our own borders and in our own lives.
—-
This is not the time and place for extended discussion. The questions before our country are problems of progress to higher standards; they are not the problems of degeneration. They demand thought and they serve to quicken the conscience and enlist our sense of responsibility for their settlement. And that responsibility rests upon you, my countrymen, as much as upon those of us who have been selected for office.
Ours is a land rich in resources; stimulating in its glorious beauty; filled with millions of happy homes; blessed with comfort and opportunity. In no nation are the institutions of progress more advanced. In no nation are the fruits of accomplishment more secure. In no nation is the government more worthy of respect. No country is more loved by its people. I have an abiding faith in their capacity, integrity and high purpose. I have no fears for the future of our country. It is bright with hope.

Hoover had big plans for his Administration. He wanted to streamline government regulations and was prepared to establish numerous commissions to accomplish this. (This has been a popular technique since). There was a proposal to build what would become the St. Lawrence Seaway, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, a dam in Boulder Canyon of the Colorado River (which would become Hoover Dam). There were also plans to reform the Federal prison system. Hoover also canceled all leases for oil drilling on Federal lands.

On October 14, 1929, Hoover attended Game 5 of the 1929 World Series at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. He received a huge ovation from the crowd.

Note: Half-assed attempts at explaining economics follow. Any resemblance between my writing and actual economic theory is entirely coincidental.

Ten days later, Black Thursday hit Wall Street. Over 12 million shares (besting the previous high by 4 million) were traded at the New York Stock Exchange on October 24, 1929. The Dow Jones average dropped from 305 to 299. But, Wall Street said that there was little to worry about. On the following Monday, the Dow dropped to 260. And on Tuesday, it was 230. The slide would continue until 1932. The Dow lost 89% compared to its high on September 3, 1929.

The Wall Street Crash was just one symptom of the many problems of the Great Depression. Banks began to rein in credit (or simply just fail) and foreclose on homes and farms. Industries cut back on wages or laid off employees. People saw their life savings disappear.

Hoover, faced with an unprecedented crisis, took steps that most economists believed only exacerbated the problems. One of the biggest blunders was his signing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff in June of 1930. This bill raised tariffs to unprecedented levels. The result was a sharp decline in imports. Also, other nations passed their own protective tariff measures.

Despite his background in humanitarian causes, Hoover gave the impression that he didn’t care much about the problems that many Americans were facing. Part of this was from the fact that Hoover was now a President. He had to work with Congress and politicians with different agendas. He found himself in a position where he had less authority to get things done. Hoover was also strongly opposed to any Federal government handouts, feeling that they contrary to the spirit of individualism that he was trying to build in the country.

Hoover was also convinced that the biggest problem with the economy was the Federal Government’s budget deficit. Hoover raised income taxes and sharply curtailed Federal spending. The net effect of this was to suck even more money out of the economy. (For a dissenting opinion, you can read this book.)

By October of 1931, when Hoover returned to Shibe Park to see the Philadelphia Athletics play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, he was booed. Few Presidents had ever received such a public reaction like that at that time. (It’s not unusual now. Here’s the reaction George W. Bush got in 2001. By 2008, the reaction was different. Barack Obama’s reception at the 2009 All-Star Game could be described as “mixed.”) A growing number of homeless people formed communities that were dubbed “Hoovervilles.”

Despite his wide travels in the world, Hoover was not an expert on foreign policy. He hoped to ease tensions between the United States and Latin America, but ended up sending troops using troops to prop up a right wing regime in Nicaragua, setting up the long battle between the Somoza regime and the Sandinistas that would last until the Reagan years. (Hoover would withdraw the troops before he left office.) Hoover, like most other world leaders of the time, did not do much of anything to stem the rise of German fascism or Japanese militarism.

The nadir of his unpopularity may have been in July of 1932 when a group of World War I veterans marched to Washington asking Congress to pay them a promised bonus for their military service a few years early. The ragtag group camped out in Washington, but Hoover ordered the Army to clear them out. Under the direction of Douglas MacArthur, the Army routed the so called “Bonus Army” from their encampment. The Army was portrayed as using brutal means to accomplish this, although most accounts agree that it didn’t take much force to get the protesters to move. Also, rolling tanks down the streets of Washington tend to make people less inclined to protest.

There was one forward looking project that Hoover tried in an effort to provide some help. In the summer of 1932, Hoover started a program called the Reconstruction Finance Corporation. It was a government entity that would provide loans to state and local government, along with banks and other financial institutions. But, the program was bogged down in bureaucracy and little of the money that the RFC was authorized to lend was spent during Hoover’s term in office.

Hoover was pleased that the Democrats nominated Franklin Roosevelt for President in 1932, feeling that he had a much better chance of beating him in November. Hoover thought that Roosevelt was an intellectual lightweight. But, Hoover could not overcome his unpopularity. He was also no match for Roosevelt as a campaigner. Roosevelt seemed energetic and positive. Hoover was dour and stuffy.

After winning 40 states in 1928, Hoover would win just six in 1932. Hoover received just 39% of the popular vote and only 59 electoral votes, 36 of them from Pennsylvania. Hoover’s home state of California gave him just 37% of the vote.

During the campaign, Hoover was personally hurt by Roosevelt’s claim that Hoover had encouraged reckless speculation in the stock market. (In fact, Hoover had done the opposite as Secretary of Commerce.) Hoover wanted to have Roosevelt work with him during the transition to calm the financial markets. But, Roosevelt refused and remained silent.

On March 4, 1933, Hoover had to hold in his emotions as Franklin Roosevelt took the oath of office. He felt as if his life’s work had all been for naught.

After remaining quiet for about a year after the election, Hoover began to speak out against Roosevelt. He denounced the New Deal programs as socialistic. (Ironically, one of Hoover’s closest friends overseas was British Prime Minister James Ramsay McDonald, one of the most leftward leaning PMs in history.) He considered Roosevelt to be one of the most dangerous men to ever be President. Roosevelt responded in not so subtle ways. Interior Secretary Harold Ickes had the name of Hoover Dam changed to Boulder Dam (it would be later changed back.)

After Roosevelt’s death, Hoover headed up a commission for President Harry Truman that examined government waste and inefficiency. This job won Hoover some plaudits.

Eventually, Hoover took on the air of a beloved elder statesman. The Republicans held “farewell” celebrations for him at their conventions in 1952, 1956, and 1960. The Senate honored Hoover in 1957 with Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy feting the former President. Hoover was too ill to attend the 1964 convention, although nominee Barry Goldwater offered his respects.

Hoover was working on his own biography of Franklin Roosevelt before his death. It has never been published or even released to scholars for inspection because, according to Leuchtenburg, its tone is so strident that it would tarnish Hoover’s reputation more than Roosevelt’s.

Herbert Hoover died on October 20, 1964 in New York City at the age of 90. He was buried back in his native Iowa alongside his wife Lou, who had died in 1944.

Leuchtenburg has penned an interesting biography of a man who was very hard to know. The private side of Hoover was seldom revealed, even to people in his own family. Leuchtenburg tries to shed light on an almost entirely opaque figure.

Hoover was someone who Americans, at least for a while, admired. But they didn’t seem to actually like him. Hoover didn’t want to be liked. He wanted to get things done, but he never could figure out how to get things done as President. When you become President, you have to know how to work with people, not just order them around. Hoover likely came to the White House expecting to do great things, but the Great Depression ended those hopes.

Would Hoover had fared better during a time of prosperity? We don’t know. But, you can only judge Hoover by what he did with the situation he was given. In a country that was losing hope, Hoover offered almost none.

Please note a correction above marked by strikeout and italic type.

Other stuff: Herbert and Lou Hoover are buried at the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in West Branch, Iowa. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is part of that site.

After World War I, Hoover started a research institute at Stanford to study the cause of the war. Since then, the Hoover Institution has become of the one most influential conservative think tanks in the United States, covering all aspects of public policy. Some of its fellows have included Condoleezza Rice, George Shultz, Edwin Meese, Milton Friedman, and Thomas Sowell.

Hoover was the last sitting Cabinet member to be elected President and only the fourth one overall. The other three were James Madison, James Monroe, and John Quincy Adams, all of whom were Secretaries of State.

The only other candidate from the two major parties who attended a Pac-10 university was Barry Goldwater in 1964. Goldwater attended, but did not graduate from the University of Arizona.

The Survivor, Bill Clinton in the White House by John F. Harris

President #42, C-SPAN Historians ranking #15

It is what it is if you ask me

clintonsurvivorI wasn’t overly excited about reading a book about Bill Clinton for many reasons.

First, people who read this blog already know Bill Clinton. It’s not like I can find anything new or interesting to say that hasn’t already been said.

Second, I’ve never found Bill Clinton all that interesting. It’s similar to the way I feel about people who want to go on vacation to San Diego. I tell those people, “In theory, San Diego should be interesting, but it isn’t.”

Third, it was hard to find anything resembling an impartial biography of Bill Clinton.  (When it comes to partisanship, Bill Clinton brings out in everybody it seems.) The book I picked was written by a Washington Post national reporter, who covered the White House for nearly all eight years of Clinton’s Administration. And while the book is well written, it is not really a biography. It’s more a story of how a guy from Arkansas tried to fit in with the Washington establishment.

Harris devotes over 400 pages to the ins and outs of the eight years of the Clinton White House. But Harris isn’t analyzing Clinton’s place in history, but mainly recounting how the seemingly unending series of crises unfolded. Very little time is spent on Clinton’s life prior to assuming the Presidency, even though those years would prove to be very important to what happened during the eight years in the White House.

Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III on August 19, 1946 in Hope, Arkansas. And as most of us know from hearing or reading about his life story, Clinton’s father, William Blythe Jr., died before he was born in an automobile accident. His mother, Virginia, would later marry a man named Roger Clinton, and young Bill would assume that last name. (Clinton and Gerald Ford are the only two Presidents who have changed surnames during their life. Gerald Ford was born Leslie King.) Roger Clinton was an alcoholic and prone to violence, and young Bill was eager to get away.

Fortunately, Bill Clinton was an excellent student. He was able to gain entrance to Georgetown University, and then a Rhodes Scholarship to study at Oxford. Upon his return from England, Clinton entered Yale Law School, where he eventually met his future wife, Hillary Rodham.

Clinton would move back to Arkansas and get elected Attorney General at the age of 30. Two years later, he was elected Governor. Two years after that, Clinton lost his bid for re-election. Two years after that, Clinton figured out how to stay elected, winning four more elections. (In 1984, the term of office was extended to four years. Subsequently, Arkansas has limited its governors to two terms.)

Some thought Clinton would run for President in 1988, but he decided against it. Instead, he opted to give the nominating speech for Michael Dukakis. There went two hours of my life I wanted back.

In 1991, Clinton decided to run against incumbent George H.W. Bush. Clinton was the leader of the wing of the Democratic Party referred to as “New Democrats.” This wing, which preferred the term Democratic Leadership Council, was supposed to bring the Democratic Party closer to the center.

Clinton weathered a campaign marked by accusations of marital infidelities and questions over the fitness of the governor of a small state to run the United States. H. Ross Perot mounted a spirited third party campaign.

Perot was able to siphon enough votes away from Bush to allow Clinton to win the election comfortably. However, Clinton ended up with just 43% of the popular vote. Many of his opponents would remind him that 57% of the voters wanted someone else to be President.

Unfortunately for Clinton, he didn’t seem to get the message that he didn’t have deep support. His administration hit the ground stumbling. There were tussles over gays in the military, his Attorney General nominee (Zoe Baird, who withdrew after a disclosure that she had employed an illegal alien as a nanny), replacing the staff in the White House Travel Office, and also making other planes wait for him at LAX while he was getting a haircut. Deputy White House counsel Vince Foster committed suicide, either from the stress of the job or severe depression. (Or some combination of the two. Or he was murdered. Take your pick.)

Amidst all this, Clinton tried to get his economic plan passed by Congress. Since it contained some new taxes, Republicans refused to support it. The plan passed narrowly in the House on party lines, and it only passed in the Senate because Vice President Al Gore was available to break a tie.

Clinton also promised to reform health care. Hillary Clinton was put in charge of the project. Clinton demanded that any plan guarantee universal health care. The plan came out of the project supposedly did that, but it ran into fierce opposition from just about everyone. And that included “Harry and Louise.”

The health care plan got nowhere. Much of what Clinton tried to do in his first two years in office went nowhere. His foreign policy initiative in Bosnia went nowhere. Clinton was helpless in the face of a genocide in Rwanda. U.S. troops tried to intervene in Somalia, but suffered some horrific losses.

Unsurprisingly, in the midterm elections, the Democrats were massacred. They lost control of both houses of Congress. Bill Clinton would now face another nemesis, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

At this time, Clinton made a fateful change in strategy. He called an old adviser, Dick Morris, for assistance. Clinton kept this secret from nearly everyone on his staff. Most Democrats disliked Morris. That was because Morris usually worked for Republican candidates. But Clinton had a strange kinship with Morris and trusted him.

Morris was able to get Clinton to shift his policies rightward. Clinton signed a welfare reform bill that appalled many Democrats, but it proved to be hugely important in presenting Clinton to the public as a leader who could get things done.

In 1995, the Republicans tried to get Clinton to agree to their budget deficit reduction plan by threatening to shut down the government. Clinton called the bluff of the Republicans. Clinton bet that while people didn’t like the Federal Government in the abstract, they liked individual things that the Government did. People liked their Social Security checks and weather forecasts. The Republicans ended up backing down and compromised on a budget reduction plan.

All the while, a new scandal was brewing. It was called Whitewater. I believe five people fully understand what the Whitewater scandal truly was about.  It involved the Clintons and their involvement in a failed real estate development called Whitewater back in Arkansas.  There were bribes, embezzlement, and some connection to the Savings and Loan Crisis of the late 1980s. Clinton appointed a special prosecutor to look into the matter, feeling that it would be the best way to clear his name.  Originally, this special prosecutor was Robert Fiske, but he would later be replaced by Kenneth Starr. This investigation would take several years, and turn into something much different. (Ultimately, Clinton would not be found guilty of any one particular crime directly connected to Whitewater.)

Clinton faced off against Kansas senator Bob Dole in 1996 and it wasn’t much of a contest. Clinton won despite having to cut ties with Morris before the election after it had been discovered that Morris was letting a prostitute listen in on phone conversations he had with Clinton. Perot ran again and he won enough votes to keep Clinton below 50%.

In his second term, Clinton first faced a crisis over his acceptance of campaign contributions from foreign nationals, which is prohibited by Federal law. Some believed that the contributions, mostly from China, were compromising the security of the nation. However, this dust-up seemed to fade away with little effect on Clinton.

But, the Whitewater investigation was starting to take a turn for the worse for Clinton.

One of the many problems Clinton faced was a civil suit for sexual harassment by an Arkansas woman named Paula Jones. (This was also known as Troopergate.) Clinton’s attorneys offered to settle the case for $750,000. Jones’ attorneys thought “Hey, that’s a good deal.” But, Jones turned down the offer. So, her attorneys quit the case. A conservative legal group called the Rutherford Institute took over the case. And, they knew stuff.

In particular, Jones’ new attorneys knew that Clinton had been carrying on a sexual affair with a White House intern named Monica Lewinsky. Clinton was called in to give a deposition about his relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton, in very legalistic terms, denied the affair. He also denied helping Lewinsky find a job outside the White House.

The problem with this was that: 1) Clinton had had a sexual affair with Lewinsky and 2) he had helped (through his friend Vernon Jordan) Lewinsky find another job. Clinton also had coached his secretary, Bettie Currie, into saying that Lewinsky was just coming to the Oval Office to visit her, not the President.

Kenneth Starr was now aware of this evidence. A White House staffer named Linda Tripp had provided evidence, in the form of a semen-stained dress, that the President had had sex with Lewinsky. Starr viewed Clinton’s earlier testimony as perjury. Skipping ahead, this charge of perjury went to Congress. The Republicans, out for blood, decided that this was an impeachable offense. The House voted in favor of two articles of impeachment (perjury and obstruction of justice), which passed mostly along on party lines. But, to convict Clinton, the Republicans would have to get a 2/3 vote in the Senate. The votes weren’t close, 50-50 for perjury, and 55-45 against on the obstruction of justice charge. (Jones’ case was dismissed, but Clinton did pay her a settlement.)

With the impeachment crisis over, Clinton was able to have a productive final two years in office. Clinton spent much of his time concentrating on foreign affairs, dealing with Kosovo, Northern Ireland, and the West Bank. Clinton also discovered that America had an enemy by the name of Osama bin Laden. (And at this point, you can decide for yourself if you think Clinton did enough to stop bin Laden.)

Clinton hoped that Gore would succeed him in the White House, but was disappointed that the Vice President never asked him to campaign for him. Gore would later tell Clinton that he had to distance himself from the sex scandals. Clinton told Gore that if he ran on Clinton’s record, he would have won. Of course, Gore sort of won. Except he didn’t win the votes in the right places, so he lost.

Amidst all this, you might ask, (I certainly did), what did Bill Clinton do that made him so popular? Beats me. OK, maybe I have some ideas.

It did help that the economy grew during Clinton’s eight years in office. Clinton also managed to tame the budget deficit and left office with a $559 billion surplus. (You can argue amongst yourselves if there really was a surplus or if it was just accounting chicanery.)

It’s hard not to like a President when things are going well. As one of Clinton’s campaign advisers, James Carville, said during the 1992 campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid.” Or is it a stupid economy?

Would I recommend Baker’s book? To be honest, no I wouldn’t. But I’m also a guy who doesn’t like to visit San Diego. It’s just not my thing.

Other stuff: In case you didn’t know, Bill Clinton’s wife, Hillary, was a United States Senator from New York. And she almost became President. But now she’s the Secretary of State. Just checking to see if you’re paying attention.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Library is in Little Rock, Arkansas.

If you saw this on your RSS feed earlier, that was a mishap on my part. I was hurrying to get this done and clicked “publish” too early. I likely have a lot of typos. I will try to fix them as I go along. I beg your indulgence. This was just not a post I enjoyed writing much. Sorry, I’ll try to do better with the next one. But that won’t be for a few more weeks as I’m going on vacation soon. And not to San Diego.

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James Garfield by Ira Rutkow

You should put some Bactine on that

President #20, C-SPAN Historians ranking #28

jamesgarfieldJames Garfield served as President from March 4 through September 19, 1881, the second shortest tenure of any person to hold the office. Garfield’s assassination was  tragic, although the most tragic part was not the violence perpetrated by Charles Guiteau, but rather by the the incompetent medical care that Garfield received from a group of doctors who refused to adopt some of the most basic medical principles that we take for granted today.

Because Garfield’s presidency was so short and he spent much of it (80 days) dying from his bullet wound, this biography of Garfield was given to Ira Rutkow, a surgeon who has written numerous books on medical history. Garfield’s biography is intriguing, although if reading about gruesome medical conditions is not your thing, you may wish to pass this book by.

Rutkow does discuss Garfield’s rise from his humble beginnings in Ohio (he was the last president to be born in a log cabin) to the White House. And Garfield was undoubtedly a brilliant man, although politically, his greatest gift was giving good speeches.  He was not an especially inspiring leader, but he was respected.

Garfield rose to fame during the Civil War serving as the chief of staff to Union General William Rosecrans, although Garfield left the Army in 1863 to take over a House seat for Ohio. Rosecrans was relieved of his command of the Army of the Cumberland after a terrible defeat at the Battle of Chickamauga. Garfield and Rosecrans are linked in the city of Paramount, California where streets named after them intersect. (Although some sources say Garfield Avenue is actually named for Garfield’s widow, Lucretia.)

While serving in the House, Garfield aligned himself with the Radical Republicans and he even came out against the reelection of Abraham Lincoln. But he built a reputation as a thoughtful and well-read Representative and someone to watch out for in the future.

And like so many politicians of the era, Garfield was touched by scandals, including the Credit Mobilier scandal (it’s another one of those events you hoped your teacher didn’t put on the midterm) and also for receiving excessive fees for serving as a lobbyist for a company. But compared to what was going in the Grant Administration, Garfield looked pretty clean.

In 1880, the Republican Party, which barely held on to the White House in 1876 thanks to some last-minute Electoral College chicanery (the Democrats were equally guilty of chicanery. It was a very chicanerous time.), was divided into two factions: the Stalwarts who wanted to bring back Ulysses Grant for a third term. This faction was led by New York Senator Roscoe Conkling. The Stalwarts liked the spoils system and political appointments for cronies all around.

The other faction was called the Half-Breeds and they were led by James Blaine, who had been Speaker of the House. This group tended to be a bit more conciliatory toward the South and wanted some civil service reform. The Half-Breeds had two candidates: Blaine and Ohio Senator John “my older brother burned down Georgia” Sherman.

Three strong candidates at a political convention lends itself well to a deadlock and one quickly developed. Garfield, who was hoping for such a deadlock, ended up being the compromise choice and he prevailed in the general election over Democrat Winfield Scott Hancock (another Union General) by margin of about 7,000 votes (Rutkow uses a figure of 2,000). The Electoral Vote wasn’t as close with Garfield winning 214-155.

Upon election, nothing went well for Garfield. Conkling demanded that his faction of the party be represented in Garfield’s Cabinet, even though the Vice-President, Chester Arthur, was a Conkling crony. Garfield ended up piecing together a Cabinet that no one liked.

After his inauguration, Garfield soon discovered that his campaign manager was involved in a scandal where he took exorbitant fees to deliver mail to rural areas through companies he controlled. But the mail never got delivered in those areas.

The biggest headache for Garfield came when he tried to appoint someone to the lucrative position of Customs Collector for the Port of New York who was not acceptable to Conkling, who tried to block the move with some parliamentary tricks. Conkling’s effort failed and, out of spite or pique, Conkling resigned his Senate seat (as did New York’s other Senator, Thomas “Me Too” Platt) hoping to be reelected to the Senate by the New York legislature. The New York legislature chose two other people.

So Conkling was out of the picture and life seemed better for James Garfield as he was heading to catch a train to  his alma mater of Williams College and a vacation with his wife in New Englad.

Enter Charles Guiteau. Guiteau was a man with many psychiatric problems (this amateur psychiatrist thinks he was schizophrenic) and he was disappointed that Garfield and his new Secretary of State, Blaine, had not appointed him to be a U.S. consul in either Vienna or Paris. People in Washington knew Guiteau as “that crazy guy who keeps asking for a job.” But they didn’t know that he wasn’t harmless. He had a gun and he fired twice into Garfield’s back.

The first medical officer to examine Garfield stuck his unsterilized finger into the wound to look for the bullet, but couldn’t find it. (Rutkow speculates that the first person examining Garfield may have had manure on his hands.) Then another doctor came in and he tried to find the bullet with his finger. Then he took a metal probe and stuck it inside Garfield’s bullet wound and poked around, but didn’t find the bullet. However, it was assumed that the bullet hit Garfield’s liver. It hadn’t.

Garfield was taken back to the White House where the doctor who took over the case, a man who was literally a doctor in name only. The man’s name was Doctor William Bliss. Was he Dr. Doctor William Bliss? Who knows for sure? It didn’t take much in 1881 to call yourself “Doctor” as licensing of physicians hadn’t started, but Doctor was the man’s given name. Bliss wasn’t even the Garfield family physician. They frequented a homeopathic doctor in Washington.

Bliss never could figure out that Garfield kept suffering from high fevers, extreme nausea, and a rapid heart rate because he had developed massive infections from his wound being continually poked and prodded at with unsterilized instruments. Garfield spent the last 80 days of his life in misery and agony that would have been easily preventable today and could have been prevented back in 1881 if Bliss hadn’t held on to his belief that antiseptic practices were just a fad. Alexander Graham Bell was even brought in to help out and that was pretty much a disaster.

Rutkow’s description of Garfield’s care can be quite harrowing to read. It’s also remarkable to find out how much medical science has changed in the past 128 years. Rutkow compares the treatment that Ronald Reagan received in 1981 to the treatment that Garfield received 100 years later earlier. Garfield’s wound would have been treated fairly simply in 1981 and he likely would have been out of the hospital in a day or two. Reagan’s injuries in 1881 likely would have killed him within a day if Bliss had taken over the case (mostly because Bliss wouldn’t have bothered to check on Reagan’s respiration or blood pressure.) Guiteau’s bullet did not hit any of Garfield’s vital organs nor did it cause any spinal cord damage.

Bliss would later publish articles on his treatment of Garfield in an attempt to rehabilitate his reputation. Here is an example of one such document, but I don’t suggest clicking that link until you’re sure you aren’t going to eat for a while.

James Garfield didn’t want to leave a legacy of dying at a young age (49) from medical malpractice, but that’s what history remembers him for. But at least he helped get doctors to wash their hands and sterilize their instruments.

Notes: James Garfield’s home, dubbed Lawnfield by reporters during the 1880 campaign, is run by the National Park Service as the James A. Garfield National Historic Site. It is located in Mentor, Ohio.

Garfield was the first president whose mother watched his inauguration. Garfield’s widow, Lucretia, moved to Pasadena, California for the winters after her husband’s death and passed away in 1918, although she is buried alongside her husband in a cemetery in Cleveland.

Gerald Ford by Douglas Brinkley

President #38, C-SPAN ranking 22

Pardon me!

geraldford2Gerald Ford had a unique presidency. He was not elected to be vice president. He was not elected to be president. His vice president was not elected either. He was the first president to born with an entirely different first and last name than what he used while in office. He was a remarkably successful politician who never lost an election, until he ran for president on his own.

But what will history remember Gerald Ford for? He was the man who pardoned Richard Nixon. And that one act, something which Ford did not regret, is like that big  blemish on someone’s face that you just can’t help staring at.

Douglas Brinkley, who has written a biography of Jimmy Carter among his many other books, writes the Gerald Ford obituary and does a good job of presenting the two sides of Ford. One side was the grandfatherly, pipe-smoking calm leader who led America out of the dark years of  Watergate. The other side was the man who spent most of this adult life in politics and based many of his decisions based on what was feasible in a hostile political climate.

Ford came into the world with the name Leslie King, but his mother took her son away from her abusive husband and moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she remarried a successful local business man, who adopted  young Leslie King and renamed him Gerald R. Ford, Jr. The R stands for Rudolph, which was originally Rudolf, but Ford changed that spelling too.

Ford was an All-America center for the University of Michigan’s football team in 1934.  That Michigan squad went 1-7 and scored just 21 points.

Eventually Ford went on to Yale Law School, served in the Navy in World War II, and then came back to Grand Rapids and started a law practice and went into politics and won a House seat in 1948 and held it until he resigned to become the replacement for Spiro Agnew as Vice President in 1973.

Ford remained loyal to Nixon for as long as he could, but even he had his limits. When it became clear that Nixon had to resign, White House Chief of Staff Alexander Haig came to Ford with a series of scenarios. One of them was that Nixon would resign in exchange for a pardon from Ford. Did Ford agree to this? According to Brinkley, Ford didn’t. But he also didn’t explicitly say he wouldn’t pardon Nixon. And in such gray areas, Ford’s legacy was made.

The rest of Ford’s presidency featured events such as an attempt to end inflation by getting people to wear WIN (Whip Inflation Now!) buttons and telling people that it was their patriotic duty to spend less, the signing of the Helsinki accords on human rights (which made Ford a pariah to the Republican right, aka Ronald Reagan), watching South Vietnam fall into the hands of Communists, sending Marines to rescue a captured U.S. freighter in Cambodia, and getting to look very presidential during the Bicentennial.

One aspect of Ford’s presidency that Brinkley mentions is Ford’s role in  East Timor. When the Timorese tried to break away from Indonesia, Ford, upon advice from his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, gave the Indonesians free rein to suppress the insurgency. Hundreds of thousands died in a conflict that lasted over 20 years. In his memoirs, Ford pointed to his actions in this matter as one of his biggest mistakes.

Ford lost his chance to be elected in his own right in 1976. Reagan almost denied Ford the nomination and did little campaigning for him in the general election against Jimmy Carter. And despite having the stain of the Nixon pardon and making a huge gaffe in a debate (“There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe.”), Ford narrowly lost in 1976, 50.1%-40.8% 48.0%.

Gerald Ford, unlike the other presidents with official libraries, opted to have the museum attached to it in a different city. Ford’s papers are at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, while a museum dedicated to his life is in his home town of Grand Rapids (I’ve been to it. TWICE!). Ford’s widow, Betty, is of course better known for the rehab clinic she and her husband helped to open in Rancho Mirage, California.

Rancho Mirage is where Gerald Ford passed away on December 26, 2006 at the age of 93. Ford lived longer than any other President, 45 days longer than Reagan.