Presidents and Protégés
Washington may not have a soul, but it does have a memory. For all the talk of what a cold, transient place it can be, there are rituals that remind us that this vast government rests on a sense of permanence and continuity. In a place like Washington, the past matters. A lot.
The funeral and eulogies for Gerald R. Ford at the National Cathedral this week have as much to do with 1975 as 2006. Ford will be mourned by a roomful of people whose views of the world were shaped by those crucial years in the wake of Watergate and the collapse of South Vietnam.
In particular, Ford and a couple of eager young aides named Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney set about to rebuild a staggered White House. Congress, the press, and the Washington establishment had pilloried Richard Nixonfor reasons good and badand now were leaning on Ford. "The feeling I had then, and I think it's been borne out by history," Cheney told U.S. News last year, "is that the balance shifted, if you willthat, in fact, the presidency was weakened."
They all felt that the office of the president needed to be much strongeras it was intended to be. Ford tried to push back. On domestic issues, he brought out the veto pen and killed a record 66 bills that mostly raised spending and taxes.
But on Vietnam and other national security issuessuch as intelligence gathering, committing U.S. forces, and confronting the Soviet Unionhe mostly gave in. Cheney and Rumsfeld never forgot.
This story appears in the January 8, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.