Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 480
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s
    Book Description:

    History has not been kind to Gerald Ford. His name evokes an image of either America's only unelected president, who abruptly pardoned his corrupt predecessor, or an accident-prone man who failed to provide skilled leadership to a country in domestic turmoil. In Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, historian Yanek Mieczkowski reexamines Ford's two and a half years in office, showing that his presidency successfully confronted the most vexing crises of the postwar era.

    Surveying the state of America in the 1970s, Mieczkowski focuses on the economic challenges facing the country. He argues that Ford's understanding of the national economy was better than that of any other modern president, that Ford oversaw a dramatic reduction of inflation, and that his attempts to solve the energy crisis were based in sound economic principles. Throughout his presidency, Ford labored under the legacy of Watergate. Democrats scored landslide victories in the 1974 midterm elections, and the president engaged with a spirited opposition Congress. Within an anemic Republican Party, the right wing challenged Ford's leadership, even as pundits predicted the death of the GOP. Yet Ford reinvigorated the party and fashioned a 1976 campaign strategy against Jimmy Carter that brought him from thirty points behind to a dead heat on election day.

    Mieczkowski draws on numerous personal interviews with the former president, cabinet officials, and members of the Ninety-fourth Congress. In his reassessment of this underrated president, Ford emerges as a skilled executive, an effective diplomat, and a leader with a clear vision for America's future. Working to heal a divided nation, Ford unified the GOP and laid the groundwork for the Republican resurgence in subsequent decades. The first major work on the former president to appear in more than ten years, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s combines the best of biography and economic, social, and presidential history to create an intriguing portrait of a president, his times, and his legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7205-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction Presidential Leadership in Post-Watergate America (pp. 1-14)

    “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?”

    Think about it for a minute. Pollsters have posed this question to Americans throughout the post–World War II era. In the summer of 1974, shortly before Gerald Ford became president, three issues stood out. Respondents overwhelmingly ranked the “high cost of living” as their chief worry. Then came a pair of concerns associated with the Watergate scandal, “lack of trust in government” and “corruption in government.” Third came the nation’s energy crisis.¹

    Gerald Ford saw these problems as the greatest of his presidency. In July 1975,...

  5. Part One: The Leadership Challenge
    • Chapter 1 Hungering for Heroes (pp. 17-37)

      In the mid-1970s, feeling betrayed by their president after Watergate, Americans hungered for new national heroes. They found Evel Knievel. The motorcycle stuntman wore a red, white, and blue jumpsuit; spoke openly of his love of country; denounced the Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang; and urged his young fans to avoid drugs and wear helmets when motorcycling. Most important, Knievel performed stunts that demanded superhuman courage, leaping over cars, trucks, buses, and even the fountains at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace. A legend grew around him; awestruck children claimed that he had broken every bone in his body (in reality, his crashes...

    • Chapter 2 The Congenial Presidency (pp. 38-55)

      On October 11, 1975, at 11:30 P.M., a new program debuted on television.NBC’s Saturday Night(later renamedSaturday Night Live) became a hit partly because it was so different. It aired live, which infused energy and spontaneity into its antics. Unlike other television comedies, it welcomed a different guest host each week. It starred fresh, raw talent; most cast members were younger than thirty. It featured a so-called cold opening that dove straight into a comedic sketch, skipping the prefatory title and credits. The show came at a good moment, too, since the nation needed laughter after the morose...

    • Chapter 3 Gerald Ford and the Ninety-fourth Congress (pp. 56-72)

      January 20, 1977, was Gerald Ford’s last day as president. After Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, Ford and his wife, Betty, now private citizens, strode through the Capitol rotunda, walked down the building’s rear steps, and boarded a helicopter to fly to Andrews Air Force Base. It was a sunny winter day in Washington, and Ford asked the helicopter pilot to circle over the Capitol so that he could take one last look at the building where he had spent a huge part of his career. As the chopper flew over the dome, Ford gazed down and said, “That’s my real...

    • Chapter 4 Ford’s Vision for America (pp. 73-92)

      Gerald Ford went to college during the Great Depression. Coming from a modest, middle-class background, he faced a great challenge in simply finding the money to attend the University of Michigan. The Wolverine gridiron coach heavily recruited Ford, who captained his high school football team as a senior, leading it to an undefeated season and state championship; but in the 1930s there were no athletic scholarships. Still, help came down various avenues. Ford’s high school principal created a special scholarship for him. Ford waited tables at the university hospital and gave blood every two to three months for money. Although...

  6. Part Two: The Economic Challenge
    • Chapter 5 The Great Inflation of the 1970s (pp. 95-110)

      In many ways, the Fords were like the typical American family after World War II. While still single, Gerald Ford fought in the war, returned home, and resumed his career. After marrying, he moved to Washington, D.C., to embark on a new profession—politics. Then Ford and his wife, Betty, began a family that included four baby boomers: Mike, born in 1950; Jack, 1952; Steve, 1955; and Susan, 1957. The Fords moved from the city to the suburbs, leaving a Georgetown apartment for one in Alexandria, Virginia. They needed more space as their family grew, and in 1955 they bought...

    • Chapter 6 Taking Aim at Inflation (pp. 111-119)

      Saturday, September 28, 1974, was a gray and rainy day in Washington, D.C. As Gerald Ford stepped out of the presidential limousine and walked inside the Hilton International Hotel, his thoughts were racing. He was about to spend a second day hosting an enormous summit conference that assembled the nation’s top economists and government officials. The president needed to absorb their analyses and recommendations and distill his own perspective in a speech that he and Robert Hartmann had prepared that morning.

      But Ford’s thoughts were preoccupied by an urgent personal matter. That morning, while Ford and Hartmann worked on the...

    • Chapter 7 Teetering on a Knife’s Edge (pp. 120-131)

      Almost every American has seen pictures of this stunning day. On August 9, 1974, Gerald and Betty Ford somberly accompanied Richard and Pat Nixon down the White House lawn, where the thirty-seventh president boarded a helicopter, flashed an incongruous victory sign, turned, and retreated to private life. Earlier that morning, Gary Seevers, a member of the CEA, listened to Nixon’s farewell speech in the East Room and then joined the crowd assembled on the lawn to say good-bye to Nixon. After the helicopter took off, Seevers returned to the West Wing and, as he walked down a narrow hallway, he...

    • Chapter 8 Rallying the Nation to Fight Inflation (pp. 132-144)

      The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum is a sprawling, 51,000-squarefoot building that overlooks Michigan’s Grand River, which flows from the rapids that give Ford’s home city its name. The museum tells the story of Ford’s life, emphasizing his presidency and the 1970s, and includes full-scale mock-ups of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room, looking much as they did during the Ford years. Like many large museums, the Ford facility holds most of its collections in storage, including items that the public has never seen. Deep within the museum’s bowels, carefully preserved in a large metal cabinet, is an array...

    • Chapter 9 The Great Recession of the 1970s (pp. 145-156)

      In the spring of 1936, Gerald Ford finished his first year on the Yale University athletic staff. The young Michigan alumnus served as an assistant to legendary football coach Ducky Pond, and he also coached the freshman boxing team (a funny role for Ford, who had never boxed before; he prepared by taking a course at the Grand Rapids YMCA). Ford had been cash-strapped throughout college, but his work enabled him to pay off loans and save money for the first time in his life.

      That summer, Ford tried something new. He headed out to Yellowstone National Park to work...

    • Chapter 10 Ford’s 1975 State of the Union Program (pp. 157-173)

      On June 20, 1975,Jawsopened. People who had worked on the film were nervous about its premiere. The film’s production had been riddled with problems and complications, most notably involving “Bruce,” the twenty-five-foot-long, quarter-million-dollar mechanical shark. Shooting the film was supposed to take 55 days; instead, it took 159, and the crew nicknamed the project “Flaws.” The film’s $4 million budget inflated to $12 million, prompting rumors that the twenty-seven-year-old director, Steven Spielberg, would be fired. There were worries that audiences would laugh at the preposterous ending; Frank Mundis, the Long Island shark fisherman who was the model for...

    • Chapter 11 Economic Initiatives, 1975–76 (pp. 174-194)

      Gerald Ford “was very concerned about the crime problem, which was becoming severe” in the mid-1970s, recalled presidential adviser Robert Goldwin. Between 1973 and 1974, serious crimes—murder, rape, robbery, and assault—jumped 17 percent, the largest increase since the FBI began recording national crime statistics in 1930. While some observers blamed the crime wave on moral decay or a permissive justice system, New York City mayor Abraham Beame attributed it to the “acute inflation-recession” that afflicted the country and made lower-income Americans desperate.¹

      On September 5, 1975, Ford was in Sacramento to deliver an address on crime to the...

  7. Part Three: The Energy Challenge
    • Chapter 12 The Energy Crisis of the 1970s (pp. 197-214)

      “You got First Mama,” Betty Ford said into her citizens band (CB) radio. In 1976, the First Lady used the device to campaign for her husband, communicating with motorists as she traveled the country. Her use of a CB was so endearing that President Ford’s advertising team even considered playing a song called “First Mama Reggae” as a campaign commercial. CB radio, the most promising communications gadget since the telephone, was a hot 1970s fad. In 1976, CB sales jumped to eleven million, up from four million the year before, and Americans owned an estimated twenty-five million sets.¹ Popular culture...

    • Chapter 13 A New Energy Program (pp. 215-227)

      Frank Zarb was Gerald Ford’s new energy czar. During his first day on the job, he decided to test the efficiency of the FEA. He ordered two items, specifying that they had to be on his desk by afternoon: a rubber stamp with his name and aRoget’s Thesaurus.When he returned from lunch, a brown paper bag sat on his desk. He looked inside and pulled out a rubber stamp reading “Frank Zarb.” But there was no thesaurus. He noticed another stamp inside the bag and tried it out: “Roget’s Thesaurus.”

      Someone at the FEA could secure rubber stamps...

    • Chapter 14 The Energy Stalemate (pp. 228-245)

      The passions were reminiscent of the Civil War, only it was the 1970s. Members of the Texas legislature were fiercely debating the nation’s energy crisis. One lawmaker, exasperated that the South had to endure the fifty-five-mile-per-hour speed limit due to alleged northeastern wastefulness, shouted, “To hell with the Yankees and their speed limit!” In other parts of the South, a popular bumper sticker read, “Let the bastards freeze in the dark.” The sentiments were mutual. Northeasterners resented the oil prosperity of the Gulf Coast states, and they began calling visitors from the Lone Star State “Texas Arabs.”

      Energy was a...

    • Illustrations (pp. None)
    • Chapter 15 Breaking the Energy Logjam (pp. 246-270)

      Dale Bumpers was a member of the Ninety-fourth Congress’s large Democratic freshman class. After serving four years as Arkansas governor, he decided to run for the U.S. Senate in 1974. He won easily and moved to Washington, but as he drove through the city’s streets during the energy crisis, something bothered him. “It occurred to me,” he said, “as I sat at stop lights without a car in sight in any direction, idling, that I was sitting there using precious fuel at a time when we were trying to become energy independent.” Bumpers knew that since 1937, California had permitted...

  8. Part Four: Diplomatic and Political Challenges
    • Chapter 16 Gerald Ford’s Internationalism (pp. 273-303)

      On December 18, 1944, in World War II’s Pacific theater, a raging typhoon struck the light aircraft carrier USSMontereysailing in the Philippine Sea. Hundred-knot winds battered the ship, and it struggled to stay afloat. At one point during the storm, theMonterey’s assistant navigator and athletic director, Lieutenant Gerald Ford, climbed to the flight deck. Just as he set foot there, the ship rolled violently, throwing him on his back. Ford slid across the deck, as if riding down a water chute, all the way to the port side, and he almost fell into the churning seas. Two...

    • Chapter 17 Thunder from the Right (pp. 304-324)

      A year and a half before the Republican primaries, the president already anticipated a challenge from his popular, charismatic party rival. It was September 1910, and William Howard Taft detected rumblings from ex-president Theodore Roosevelt, who had just returned from a long stay in Europe. Would Roosevelt begin angling for the presidency in 1912? Taft privately remarked, “If you were to remove Roosevelt’s skull now, you would find written on his brain ‘1912.’”¹ Less than two years later, Taft’s premonitions rang true when Roosevelt declared, “My hat is in the ring.” Although Taft won the GOP nomination, Roosevelt formed a...

    • Chapter 18 Back from the Brink Ford, the 1976 Election, and the Republican Party (pp. 325-350)

      During a campaign stop in 1976, when a hotel assigned President Ford its “Emperor Suite,” he told his staff that he disliked the snooty title on the door. A staff member covered it with a handwritten cardboard sign reading “Jerry Ford’s Room.”¹ At another campaign swing through Paterson, New Jersey, Matilda Durget, a resident of nearby Franklin, came out to see the president despite the steady rain the day he visited. As Ford’s limousine motored down the street, he requested that the Secret Service open the vehicle’s roof. When the driver told him that it was raining, Ford replied, “It’s...

  9. Conclusion The Long-term President (pp. 351-359)

    The task of leadership in the 1970s was trying. Speaker Carl Albert found his duties uniquely onerous compared to those of recent House leaders, because he had “a greater variety of difficult issues and situations to deal with than any past speaker. I mean Watergate, impeachment, two resignations [Agnew and Nixon], Vietnam, and now the economic and the energy crisis.”¹ Gerald Ford confronted these challenges and thought the solutions lay in steady leadership and a conservative approach. He saw a brighter future for the country in the principles of its past: frugal government, greater reliance on private industry and initiative,...

  10. Notes (pp. 360-420)
  11. Bibliography (pp. 421-433)
  12. Index (pp. 434-456)

You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in to your personal account or through your institution.