While a lot of us were on vacation, the Grim Reaper got to work. It was a good week for death. First it was James Brown and Gerald Ford. Soon a man who knows a thing or two about death will join them, Saddam Hussein.
Every life needs an exit strategy. For James Brown it was a horse drawn carriage pulling into The Apollo. Perfect. The man lived large and he died large. It's an exit plan that the Pentagon would have called "Go Strong."
Saddam on the other hand will be redeploying his forces - into Hades. The guy is still giving lectures about how we should "become an example of love, forgiveness and brotherly coexistence." Come on. For audacious hypocrisy, it's hard to get a better value than Saddam.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have Gerald Ford. A pleasant man. An uninteresting man. His exit strategy was more of a phased withdrawal.
The schmaltzy Tim McGraw song urges everyone to "live like you were dyin'." In Saddam's case, he really put that slogan to the test, but not in the way McGraw imagined. James Brown was the epitome of Carpe Diem. Did the man have any boring days?
Gerald Ford on the other hand seemed like he didn't have one interesting day in the last thirty years. Some would argue that he was wise to not meddle in politics again and to guard his reputation. To that I would answer - what reputation?
Here's the five things everyone says about Gerald Ford before they completely run out of things to say:
1. He was the only person to serve as vice-president and president without being elected (you don't say?! who isn't bored to death of this fact?).
2. He was portrayed as a bumbling, stumbling president by Chevy Chase on Saturday Night Live (you don't say?! I can't wait to hear this fact again when Chevy Chase dies).
3. Did you know he was a star football player in his youth (ooohh, now that's an exciting fact - you know you've led a dull life when they have to start talking about the varsity letters you got seventy years ago)?
4. He pardoned Nixon (this is the only relevant thing he actually did).
5. He moved Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld into significant positions of power in his administration (and this fact unfortunately outweighs his varsity letters, and combined with the Nixon pardon makes his life accomplishments a net negative - I know it's very wrong to speak ill of the dead, even if they've been dead for thirty years. I am a bad man.)
Here's the reason for my slight bitterness toward President Ford - apparently, he told Woodward that he thought Bush was making a "big mistake" by going into Iraq, but that Woodward shouldn't tell anybody until Ford died.
That's awful, and frankly, stupid. If I were a bit more brazen, I might even say that it lacks courage. But he is dead, so I'll leave it at stupid.
My God man, the Almighty didn't give you a life so you can sit on your rear end and wait to say things when you're dead. Just say it. Live a little.
Yes, it may break the tradition of ex-presidents not talking about the policies of current presidents. So what? Who cares? Soon you'll be dead and no one will give a damn about any tradition. Soon they'll be busy talking about how many varsity letters you got when you were eighteen because you didn't really do anything while you were alive, except accidentally become president.
Besides which, who cares what people say when you're dead - you're already dead. If Ford had said something while he were alive, he might have had a small effect. I know that nothing was going to stop Cheney from going to war with Iraq. As Ford himself agreed, Cheney had the "fever."
But it might have helped if reasonable people all stood up at the same time and voiced their objections. If Colin Powell, Tony Blair, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush all said how foolhardy the Iraq War was in unison perhaps the country would have heard them. Even if they had just said it a whole two years after the war started, it still could have helped to get us on the right track before we wound up in the mess we're in now.
Except Blair chose the role of the inexplicable lapdog. Powell chose the role of the wounded but foolishly loyal soldier. George H. W. Bush chose the role of the doting father who put the feelings of his dimwitted son ahead of what he knew was right for the country. And Gerald Ford sat around waiting to die.
Actually, I'm more bitter that the man wasted his life away being a good sport after his presidency. Do something man! You're not an average schlep. You're an ex-President.
Do you know how many different interesting things he could have done with the power that comes from that title? He didn't have to save the world, but he could have at least tried to do something slightly relevant - at least to him. Go skydiving or Rocky Mountain climbing, as McGraw would say.
I know I'm way too hokey. My favorite movie is "Dead Poet's Society." I still believe in Carpe Diem. And I know I'm being way too harsh and judgmental of the pleasant and affable Gerald Ford. But I consider it an insult to life to not live.
When I get to the point where I think I'm starting to head downhill, I'm going to really let it go (as opposed to the calm person you see before you now). I'm going to do crazy things and not give a damn what society thinks. People can judge me when I'm dead, but I'm going to try to get the most out of this life while I'm still here. And from my point of view, Gerald Ford committed the unpardonable sin of not living while he was alive.
I'm sure I am overgeneralizing, and maybe the guy just liked to drink ice tea on his front porch, but it seems like he's been falling down the same stairs on for the last thirty years. I wish he would have gotten up and done something.