An advisor to President Gerald Ford (1913–2006) pens an admiring biography of America’s most anomalous and, possibly, most underrated chief executive.
In 1974, America was led by a president and vice president for whom no one had voted. The first in our history appointed to the vice presidency by means of the 25th Amendment, Ford became president when Richard Nixon resigned, as Vice President Spiro Agnew had before him, in disgrace. Throughout the course of his administration, Ford faced a country torn by the Watergate scandal, exhausted by the war in Vietnam and mired in an economic depression. Still, even with Congress in the hands of the Democrats, Ford managed to reassure the nation and restore some measure of trust in government. Cannon (Apostle Paul: A Novel, 2005, etc.) moves swiftly over Ford’s early life, education and legal practice, even his distinguished 25-year congressional career. Nor, except for a brief treatment of Ford’s 1980 flirtation with joining the Reagan ticket, is there much about the Michigander’s 29-year post-presidency. Cannon focuses on the Constitutional crisis that brought Ford to high office, the man’s exceptional character, how he dealt with the major issues and how he managed the presidency, particularly the members of his Cabinet. Although Cannon has Ford confessing to a few political sins—a misguided crusade during his congressional years against Supreme Court Justice William Douglas, the cowardly dumping of Vice President Nelson Rockefeller from the ’76 ticket—and faults him for failing to win election in his own right, this insider account persuasively demonstrates that the man was a far better president than campaigner and that, at a particularly low moment in our history, we were perhaps luckier than we knew to have him.
Prior to his career in government service, Cannon (who died at 93 in 2011) spent years as a journalist, and that training shows in this smoothly readable account.