Monday, October 23, 2006

Pop Culture Continues to Trip a President

I’m always amazed at what my students discuss with one another regarding their television viewing habits. I’m on constant alert to quash discussions regarding various reality television shows comingled with talk of Sponge Bob.

One young television viewer came in the other day and said, “Hey Elementaryhistoryteacher, did we really have a president who used to fall down all the time?”

I was caught off guard. This is not unusual since I generally have four or five kids talking to me at the same time and another two or three others poking me or calling my name repeatedly.

I responded to my televion viewer by saying, “Huh? What are you talking about?”

“Well, I was watching the Comedy Channel last night and I saw this show called….” He was searching for the title. The kids standing around began to pepper him with titles of shows. Apparently my students are well versed with the line up on the Comedy Channel.

Mr. Overexposed to Television made another attempt, “A show called ummmmm, ummmm, something, something live. He turned to the other kids and continued, “It was so funny. Everyone was calling him Mr. President and he kept falling all over the place. Then the guy stood up and said Live from New York It’s Saturday Night. Saturday Night Live!…..that’s it!”

“Oh yeah,” I say. “That’s an old show. It started back when I was in high school.”

“Golly,” one sweet cherub states, “that’s really an old show.” I ignore the comment and simply smile.

Another student speaks up, “Saturday Night Live still comes on. I watch it sometimes. They have this neat cartoon that shows gay superheroes.”

I think to myself that I remember a time when kids thought the word gay meant to be happy and cheerful. Remember? Wasn’t it the Flinstones who had a “gay, old time?

The student expounds further, “…and they have a car that looks just like a…..”

“Alrighty then,” I quickly interject. “Let’s get on with what we need to do today. Turn to page…..”

No, I will NOT be the lead story on the five o’clock news today.

In case you are not aware the characters my student was speaking of have a car that resembles the male body part.

Of course the president Mr. Overexposed to Television was referring to was none other than Gerald Ford.

Poor Gerald Ford…forever saddled with the ‘clumsey guy’ lable.

So maybe my fellow educators and I need to prop poor Gerry up to the kidlets because most of what they internalize about him is what pop culture feeds them.

Actually, Gerry’s story is pretty interesting. He has the distinction of being the first Vice-President ever chosen under the provisions of the twenty-fifth amendment due to the Spiro Agnew scandal and resignation. He was the first Vice-President to succeed a President who resigned. He is also the only man to serve as Vice-President and President who was not elected by the people.

At birth Gerald Ford was born with the name Leslie Lynch King, Jr. after his biological dad. At some point his mother remarried and Ford’s name was changed to reflect his new step father. Ford did not know about his biological dad until he was fifteen years old.

Ford was a standout member of the University of Michigan’s football team. After turning down offers to become a professional football player Ford also played for Yale where he studied law and served for a time as an assistant coach.

During college Ford earned extra money as a male model. Here is a magazine cover he posed for.

gerald ford

Ford volunteered for service in the Navy after Pearl Harbor where he served on the USS Monterey. During a typhoon in December, 1944, Ford was nearly slung off the deck when the ship rolled twenty-five degrees. The Monterey took part in many integral battles in the Pacific theater.

Immediately upon returning to civilian life Ford became involved in Republican politics and ran for Congress. He promised farmers that if they voted for him and he won he would come back and milk their cows for them. This is a promise he kept.

Prior to bursting onto the scene as Nixon’s mid term replacement for vice president Gerald Ford had served for twenty–five years in Congress. The one word his fellow Congressmen would use to describe Ford was integrity. From 1949 until 1973 Ford held his seat in the House of Representatives. He was known as the “Congressman’s Congressman”. From 1967 to 1973 he was House Minority Leader.

Following JFK’s assassination Ford was appointed to the Warren Commission by President Johnson even though he and Johnson were not the best of friends. Ford frequently attacked Johnson’s Great Society programs.

Wikipedia states Ford described his political philosophy as “a moderate in domestic affairs, an internationalist in foreign affairs, and a conservative in fiscal policy.”

One of the most controversial actions Ford took as president was his unconditional pardon for any crimes President Nixon may have committed. Though many did not agree, Ford acted decidedly and announced that the nation had been through enough, and a long and entangled investigation and trial would not have been in the country’s best interest. Critics ranted about a “corrupt bargain” between Nixon and Ford, however, no proof has ever been brought forth.

Gerald Ford didn’t have an easy time being president. The confidence of the country had been shatterred. Inflation was rampant and the economy was depressed. Ford encouraged citizens to wear “WIN” buttons which stood for “Whip Inflation Now”. No real solution other than the buttons ever came out of the White House. There were energy shortages. During midterm elections the Democrats won control of both Congressional houses. They would plague Ford by overriding the highest percentage of vetoes since Franklin Pierce was president in the 1850s.

The final death throes of our involvement in Vietnam……the final personnel leaving and the ultimate fall of Saigon….happened under Ford’s watch.

President Ford sucessfully avoided two assassination attempts.

One of Ford’s major initiatives was making an attempt for world peace though many including those in his own party criticized the Helsinki Accords and other attempts to reach out to China and Soviet Russia.

In the build up to the 1976 presidential campaign Ford reorganized his cabinet in an event that journalist termed the Halloween Massacre. A few people were fired while others were simply moved to other positions.

Getting back to the clumsey image Ford had some bad breaks late in this presidency. While playing golf his shot was so off the mark he hit a lady on the head. While exiting Air Force One President Ford fell….this happened more than once.


Of course the newest television show to hit the airwaves couldn’t resist and Chevy Chase began to open many of the episodes by playing a bumbling Gerald Ford. His image suffered further when journalist picked up on the momentum and began tracking down all of his faux pas. Years later Ford stated in his autobiography that he felt the portrayals on Saturday Night Live did have some effect on the outcome of the 1976 election.

Chevy Chase as Gerald Ford

That could be true, however, once again during the election Ford blundered when formulating a response to a question during his televised debate with Jimmy Carter. Ford stated Poland was independent and autonomous from the Soviet Union. At the time it most certainly was not. The commentator actually gave Ford more than one opportunity to correct himself, but he did not.

It’s true that Ford’s presidency is definitely lackluster compared to the great things he did for his district and the service he gave to the nation as a Congressman and serviceman. However, at the time Nixon resigned this nation needed a man of integrity. We needed a man to simply hold this nation together long enough for the crisis to be over. Ford accomplished this and should be remembered for seeing us through.

It’s a shame that the only image many people will remember will be one of the president who fell down all the time.

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