Ford: the fighter and the healer

"There is nothing the American people cannot do when we try," said former President Ford at the Republican convention. That is the kind of thing Americans need to remember in the face of their pyramiding problems. It is the kind of heritage each generation should be challenged to live up to, as Mr. Ford challenged his audience in Detroit and throughout the nation.

The anti-Carter thrusts brought more delegates to their feet, but the pro-America lines could do more for the country. Or so it seemed to us as Mr. Ford addressed his fellow Republicans with a combination of partisan fire, going back to his congressional style, and the more elevated appeal characteristic of his presidential days. The honor and affection bestowed on him at his party's convention were no more than his due. Surely they represent the feeling of the American people for Mr. Ford's signal service during the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate years he called "a time to heal."

His beloved Republican Party appears to need some of that spirit of healing now. "Together . . . a new beginning" say the big white letters across the blue convention rostrum. But the togetherness of the right-wing group which is calling the shots at the convention has left some moderate Republicans feeling excluded, as sideline conversation in Detroit makes plain. Mr. Ford seemed to be sensitive to this when he said: "In uniting our own party, let generosity and goodwill demonstrate for all to see that the Republican Party is capable of dealing justly and tolerantly with dissent and minority opinion, for this is crucial in governing a country."

It is not only the platform -- more hardline than Mr. Reagan himself is said to have demanded -- which has caused some moderates to feel left out, to question whether this convention accurately represents the mix of the Republican Party at large. In the rules committee, too, they find an exclusionary conservatism at work. Efforts to amend the rules to broaden the base of delegations in future conventions have been stymied. It is as if the convention were not really joining in Republican chairman Bill Brock's drive for "outreach, " even though the rhetoric calls for it -- as does simple political necessity.

As a couple of small-town, host-state delegates put it, Michigan Republicans have been accustomed to Governor Milliken's brand of enlightened moderation, making him the only Republican to win in heavily Democratic Wayne County since 1946. They see the convention becoming the product of two actions: (1) ideological conservatives (the strategists) and (2) single-issue advocates such as anti-ERA people (the troops). They question whether such a combination can win as many votes from Democrats and independents, let alone moderate Republicans, as the Milliken approach.

Conversations with similarly grass-roots Reagan supporters suggest that they are less concerned with platforms and rules than with the enduring basic Republicanism and Americanism they see in the man -- a man they can depend on and believe in even if he is only human in making an occasional mistake in factual matters. A Minnesota woman said that this kind of devotion means that people will work so hard for him that the Republicans will win in November. A North Carolina man said that in his state Reagan could win with Truman on the same ticket!

Some political observers see the GOP coming out of the convention with togetherness in actuality as well as in imagery, especially if a wise vice-presidential choice is made. Mr. Ford, who has so handsomely come to the support of the candidate who beleaguered him four years ago, exemplifies the "generosity and goodwill" that he calls for -- thus helping this convention to do so, too.

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