Gerald Ford on Reagan, Watergate, and state of the presidency
Gerald R. Ford may be a president of the past but the fact that his short term (1974-77) rescued the White House from Watergate and President Nixon's disgrace gives his insights historic value. Today's he's a fairly total Reagan-backer and, through contacts with national security adviser William P. Clark, stays in touch with policymaking.Skip to next paragraph
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On the main issues of his presidential days, as well as those of 1983, Mr. Ford had this to say recently during an extensive interview here.
Are you concerned that presidential power today is being eroded?
I think that at times in our country in recent years we have had both an imperial presidency and an imperiled presidency. I think that at times the Congress had tended to encroach on the prerogatives of the presidency. On the other hand, there have been times in our memories when the president tended to disregard the Congress.
It's a very evenly balanced relationship between the legislative and executive. And when one pushes too hard and grabs too much power, it is bad for our system.
So you probably can never define with precision where that line of demarcation should come. But we must be conscious that our country doesn't work well when one branch of the government tries to be too dominant.
You then would not ask for any basic reform in the system?
No. The system is fundamentally sound.
Under the way we operate there can be excesses on the part of the executive or legislative. But the public eventually tells a president to slow down or a Congress to be a little more restrained.
The problems in our system then work themselves out?
Then you are not one of those who would like to see the parliamentary system or a variation of it brought into our governmental process?
Absolutely not. I don't think it would work. Our system does work. We've seen the blessings and the benefits from it.
What were the greatest problems you encountered in presiding over the presidency?
Well, of course, in the initial month or two there was the problem of a somewhat disillusioned feeling on the part of the American people.
The aftermath of Watergate?
The aftermath of Watergate, the aftermath of our tragedy in Vietnam, and the related intensity of feeling among Americans that maybe government had failed them.
So I had to meet that head on and try to bring us together.
There was a perception at that time, wasn't there, among many Americans that maybe the presidency had lost its credibility forever?
Yes. It was a period in which we had to heal the wounds of the terrible disagreements - between families, between segments of our society, between the Congress and the presidency: That whole attitude had to be healed.
Healing was your prime objective then?
Absolutely. And the quicker we could do it the quicker we could get to the substantive problems of foreign and domestic policy.
Is your conscience completely clear on the pardon of Richard Nixon?
My conscience is very clear. There was no deal. I had to get that individual problem of Mr. Nixon's fate off the agenda so that I as President and the American people could work on the challenges we had - challenges at home and overseas. I could not spend as President some 20 percent of my time listening to arguments on what I should do or shouldn't do about Mr. Nixon.
What is your relationship with President Reagan?
The White House, through Judge Clark, keeps me well informed on foreign policy matters. I have good access directly to President Reagan.
Do you use it?
I use it when I feel strongly about something. I have some differences on fiscal policy, not major ones, and I have some differences on how we ought to handle the buildup of our military. I fully support the basic thrust of Reagan's defense policy. I have differences on how much we ought to do over a period of time.
What about your differences with Mr. Reagan in dealing with the Soviets?
I am pleased now that President Reagan is moving toward a posture of negotiation.