Power  /  Biography

“Half Right and Half Wrong.”

There's more to Gerald Ford, "the son of a bitch pardoned the son of a bitch,” than Watergate.

Ford was indeed a feminist.

In February, I wrote about Ford’s prediction that the first woman vice president would become the first woman president. It speaks to our time, but it would have been significant to me, as a woman presidential historian, at any time. It’s easy to find sexism, or the implication of it, in the archives, but what I’ve seen from Ford suggests he was a feminist. “I believe that President Ford would consider himself a feminist,” Ms. Clement confirmed.

He was raised by a strong woman, and then he married one. “He was extremely proud of his wife and the contributions she made to this country,” Ms. Clement noted, and those contributions were plentiful: Betty Ford raised breast cancer awareness in 1974 when she publicly discussed her mastectomy. She supported a woman’s right to choose, the women’s rights movement, the Equal Rights Amendment, and more. And of course, there’s the Betty Ford Center in California.

He didn’t regret pardoning Nixon.

Ms. Clement quoted a line from A Time to Heal, Ford’s memoir: “Once I determine to move, I seldom, if ever, fret.”

Ford accepted, rather than aspired or bemoaned, his ascension to the president.

While Ford was in the House of Representatives for 25 years, he had never run in a national election until he was president. After he was sworn into office on August 9, 1974, Ms. Clement pointed out, he said, “I have not sought this enormous responsibility, but I will not shirk it.” She thinks “this statement best explains how he felt about holding these offices, even though he never was elected to either.”

That ascension was very fast.

Ms. Clement reminded me to consider the timeline. “Remember how little time he had to prepare for the role,” she said. He never had time to “strategize with aides about what policies and initiatives he wanted his administration to pursue.”