When it came to politics, my grandfather was the one who got me excited about the subject. I used to sit at his feet and he would spend hours regaling me with tales about his experiences. He served in World War II, got into banking, and knew a lot about Michigan politics, which is how I developed my first favorite president: Gerald Ford. Even when my school tapped this young, blond-haired kid to play Jimmy Carter in El Paso, TX, I shocked the school by voting for Ford.
Ford was a partisan Republican, of course. Nowadays, revisionists might call him a liberal Republican, but those G.O.P. liberals were more like N.Y. Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Senator Jacob Javits. Ford rose through the ranks to be minority leader, balancing the liberal GOP (Rockefeller was his vice-president) with more conservative Republicans like Goldwater. Yet he could be counted on to work with Democrats, and not gut personal safety nets or demonize the opposition. People from both parties have fond memories of the late president.
Did you know President Ford was a huge supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)? In fact, here is what he said when dedicating August 26, 1975 as “Women’s Equality Day.” In Presidential Proclamation #4383 he said:
“In this Land of the Free, it is right, and by nature it ought to be, that all men and all women are equal before the law. Now, therefore, I, Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States of America, to remind all Americans that it is fitting and just to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment adopted by the Congress of the United States of America, in order to secure legal equality for all women and men.”
Can you imagine a politician today supporting the ERA?
His running mate in 1976, Kansas Senator Bob Dole, was considered more conservative. I’m reading about him in Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation. Dole had harsh verbal attacks on Vietnam War protesters and pro-choice opponents, earning him the moniker “the hatchet man,” and the adjective “mean-spirited.” Such descriptions of him seem almost laughable in today’s political environment, like renaming John Franklin Baker “Home Run” Baker because he hit a few key dingers in the World Series (96 for his baseball career), accomplishments that pale in comparison to Babe Ruth’s achievements.
Dole, a disabled veteran himself from World War II, did have a strong passion. Through his hard-work and perseverance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed. I remember what it was like being on crutches at a college campus before the ADA was law, and how differently we think about helping those with injuries or infirmities to contribute and make a difference. A LaGrange Academy student made it to the state-level competition for National History Day with a great website on the ADA, having observed the struggles my wife had when she was wheelchair-bound.
Can you imagine a proposed ADA passing Congress today? They can’t even ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, something Dole champions today.
My grandfather was a hawk on foreign policy, and a banker who supported fiscal responsibility. Yet I clearly remember him telling me “the role of government is to take care of people who really need help.”
As I watch Congress and the President guffawing, backslapping each other, and sharing a Bud Light, celebrating the loss of health insurance to an estimated 24 million people, I look at the Ford/Dole button on my computer bag, wondering what America’s Greatest Generation would think. Would they be proud of what we’ve done?
John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.