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Opinion

November 30, 2013

Shribman: The steady hand of Gerald Ford

(Continued)

On Oct. 12, 1973, the telephone rang in the Ford home in Alexandria, Va. “Dad,” said Susan Ford, then 16, “the White House is calling.” Two hours later, Ford was at the executive mansion for the nationally televised announcement of his nomination as vice president.

None of this was entirely a surprise. Ford, then the House minority leader, had been asked to collect names of possible vice presidents from House members. The final tally was kept by Rose Mary Woods, Nixon’s executive assistant. Ford got 80 votes. The next closest was Rockefeller, with 35. Nixon knew Ford, the two having met on the Michigan congressman’s first day in Washington in 1949. And Nixon was comfortable with him, though the broader situation, without precedent in American history, was one of immense discomfort for both men.

“Ford was chosen because he was confirmable,” says Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University Law School expert on the vice presidency. “But he set a high standard for the vice presidency.”

The evening that Ford was introduced as the president’s selection, Nixon described the next vice president as someone who had served 25 years with distinction. Everyone in the East Room — Washington’s grandees, with a decidedly Republican tint — knew by mid-sentence who that was. Every member of the crowd stood and cheered.

The very next day, Rep. Gerald R. Ford of Michigan’s fifth congressional district marched for the 25th time in the Red Flannel Day parade in Cedar Springs, Mich.

The vice-presidential confirmation hearings were pro forma — but no breeze. Sen. Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat, asked if congressional leaders would have ready access to the new vice president. “I’ve had an open-door policy as minority leader,” Ford said. He was asked whether he thought Nixon would survive. “I think so,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of help from a lot of people.”

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