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War and the Place for Civility

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December 28, 2006

Too bad Ford kept his opinions to himself, no matter how “strongly” he felt them . . .But civility can be confused with cowardice when it is time for debate.

Had Gerald Ford not existed, he would have to have been created by Frank Capra. Imagine Ford’s story like a typical Capra movie: an obscure congressional representative respected for his civility (but not his intelligence) is made Vice President. The promotion was made by cynics, mostly as a stopgap measure, much in the way Jimmy’s Stewart’s character became senator in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

But the plot gets more interesting in this un-filmed film: the President is forced to resign. Presto, the yokel becomes the Commander-in-Chief with rights to the cushy chairs and snacks in Air Force One.

In Capra’s movie, this character would have inspired the nation. Ford, the real life yokel-President, was (sadly) “a Ford, not a Lincoln.” His stumble into the Presidency lacked a climax; it petered out. He was shunted off into obscurity. He’s a footnote—the nation’s only unelected President (that is, officially).

So Ford fell down some stairs and he tried to Whip Inflation Now. But in this era of lower standards, at least he didn’t choke on a pretzel or lead us into a criminal war that cannot be excused on any level.

Interestingly, however, before he died, Ford said he wouldn’t have brought us into this war in the first place:

“They put the emphasis on weapons of mass destruction,” he said, “and now, I’ve never publicly said I thought they made a mistake, but I felt very strongly it was an error in how they should justify what they were going to do.”

Too bad Ford kept his opinions to himself, no matter how “strongly” he felt them. Civility is a good thing, and one could argue that Ford’s civility healed the nation in the 1970s. But civility can be confused with cowardice when it is time for debate.

Before the war began, there was marching in the streets in an effort to keep the bombs from dropping. The media ignored it. There was an attempt to launch a national debate, but the Democrats—many of them, anyway—stepped aside and allowed the war to happen. Republicans sentimental for WWII, announced that there would be cheering in the streets for the invading Americans. Other Republicans such as Ford kept their mouths shut.

Before the bombs dropped, Ford had a second chance at greatness—that is, if he had been truly against the war. But instead, he opted for civility. He requested that his opinions to be expressed after his death.

Thanks a lot, Mr. President.

And then there’s that other matter, pointed out by Stephanie on Demorcatic Underground: Ford opened the cellar door; he let in all the bastards that are in power, still.

It’s time to stop the mindless praise of a mediocre man who blew a chance at greatness because he seemed to believe so strongly in civility and goodwill. When the bombs were dropping, it certainly wasn’t the time for anything close to civility. It was a time to act.

Bio: Meakin Armstrong is Guernica’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter at @meakinarmstrong.

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