Fred Barnes: The Underappreciated President

Roundup: Talking About History

...It was two decades before Ford's success as president began to be appreciated. When presidential scholar Fred Greenstein of Princeton developed a half-dozen non-partisan, non-ideological measures for judging modern presidents, he found that Ford scored surprisingly well. Greenstein labeled Ford "underappreciated."
Ford's greatest strength, Greenstein wrote in his book The Presidential Difference, was his "emotional intelligence." This is the quality of emotional soundness that allows a president to avoid distractions, not be intimidated by his high office and its obligations, and to take criticism and even policy defeats with equanimity.

Greenstein wrote: "Ford's own remark about himself upon assuming the vice presidency in December 1973 was that he was 'a Ford, not a Lincoln.' In the second half of the 1970s, it was more to the point for the nation that he was not an emotionally roiled Lyndon Johnson or Richard Nixon."

As a young reporter, I covered Ford as vice president and then as president. And, like a handful of other reporters, I got to know him quite well. Ford was the last president who actually liked reporters. His fondness grew out of his experience with the press in the friendly atmosphere of Capitol Hill, and he refused to let the harsher media environment at the White House alter his dealings with the press. Best of all, he didn't let what reporters wrote or broadcast faze him in the least.

Every year since he left the White House in 1977, Ford held a dinner in Washington in which he gathered with

officials from his administration. Not only were reporters who covered him invited, they showed up as well. My wife and I always did.

The last time I talked to Ford was several years ago. He called me after reading a piece I'd written for the Wall Street Journal, a piece that mentioned Hillary Clinton. Into his 90s, Ford kept up with politics and he had an insight about her that he wanted to pass on. I was flattered he called.

Ford had spent time with Hillary Clinton in the mid-1990s when she and President Clinton visited him at his vacation home in Vail, Colorado. He found her a bit scary but also very formidable. He was more impressed with her than with her husband, or at least I got that impression. She was someone to watch, he said, a woman with a political future. And of course he was quite right.
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