Friday, April 21, 2017

Write It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With Gerald R. FordWrite It When I'm Gone: Remarkable Off-the-Record Conversations With Gerald R. Ford by Thomas M. DeFrank
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"[...] the simple ground rules we'd already established: nothing he said could be printed until after his death."

Thomas DeFrank, the author of Write It When I'm Gone (2007), was a Newsweek correspondent and journalist when in 1973 he was assigned to cover Vice President Gerald R. Ford. At that time it was gradually becoming clear that Mr. Ford might soon become the 38th President of the United States. The relationship between the author and Mr. Ford - something more than a professional acquaintance, perhaps even friendship - lasted for one third of a century until the politician's death in 2006. The book, based on 16 years of interview sessions that had begun in 1991, is a memoir of Mr. Ford's political career viewed through the prism of his conversations with the author.

To me absolutely the best aspect of the book is that the only unelected Vice-President and the only unelected President of the U.S. comes across the pages as a real person. Not "an accident-prone bumbler" as portrayed in press and comedy (SNL) but indeed a "most remarkably guileless political figure." While not gifted with a commanding intellect, charisma, or communication skills, Mr. Ford appears to be a fundamentally honest and surprisingly warm person of goodwill.

The reader will learn a lot about Mr. Ford's short presidency troubled by his pardon of R.M. Nixon and ended by his defeat to Jimmy Carter in 1976. We also read about Mr. Ford's withdrawal from the 1980 presidential race. One should not expect to find any earth-shattering revelations in the book: for example, I have found only two fragments that surprised me. Mr. Ford makes a strong point to stand by the Warren Commission report (he was a member of the Commission) and seems to claim that all conspiracy theories about the Kennedy assassination are absurd, yet, at the same time, he "forewarns" that the report, so far unreleased in its entirety, contains "stories" that can be "harmful" to some people. How's that for equivocation? The other surprise is the extreme dislike that Mr. Ford had for Ronald Reagan, moderated only by the decency with which the half-term president talked about the two-term president at the time when the latter was dying of the Alzheimer disease.

Two items of personal interest: several conversations with Mr. Ford occurred when he was over 90 years old. Although physically frail, and perhaps not too eloquent, he was still in full command of facts. This should be a huge source of hope for us geezers. The other tidbit is just a tiny personal connection: at one point the book mentions the 1996 presidential debate which took place in the building that I sometimes lecture in and in preparations to which I participated, albeit in a totally minuscule way.

Well written, interesting book, certainly worth a read. I'm including two strong quotes after the rating.

Three and a half stars.

"He was an ordinary guy in the noblest sense of the term, a steady, solid Michigander whose old fashioned virtues were the perfect antidote for a nation desperate for stability and civility."

"He considered Reagan a superficial, disengaged, intellectually lazy showman who didn't do his homework and clung to a naïve, unrealistic, and essentially dangerous worldview."

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