Thursday, December 28, 2006

Gerald Ford's legacy

Ford with Rumsfeld and Cheney
I think history will treat Gerald Ford kindly. He stepped up to the plate during a terrible time in our political history and his fundamental decency helped the country through the transition. He was not a great president, but he was a good president, and since G.W. Bush has significantly lowered the bar curve, I think he earned at least a respectable "C+" and maybe even a "B."

I'll always remember Ford for two decisive contributions to American political culture. One was his ability to recruit talent: it was Ford who plucked two young politicians from obscurity and gave them a place on the national stage. I'm referring, of course, to Donald Rumsfeld, the youngest man ever to serve as Secretary of Defense, and Ford's Chief of Staff, Dick Cheney.

The other was his sensitivity to the intersection of public relations and popular culture. In this sense, he prefigured the "Great Communicator." It was Ford who commissioned the legendary Meredith Willson to compose the theme song for the Administration's "Whip Inflation Now!" campaign, which the Broadway composer himself performed on nationwide television after Ford launched the campaign in an historic address to Congress on October 8, 1974. The music didn't quite rise to the level of "The Music Man" or "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," but the lyrics are literally unforgettable:
Whip Inflation Now button
Let's WIN together, WIN together:
That's the American Way today.
Who needs inflation?

Not this nation!
Who's going to pass it by?

You are! And so am I!

So WIN together. Lose? Never!
If you can win, so can I!

Unfortunately, the song never entered into pop history: you won't find the lyrics on Google, and since you can google the anthem of the former Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, that means the WIN song is obscure indeed. That's probably because the anti-inflation campaign was quietly shelved a few months later when the country began to sink into a recession and the government turned to the usual pump-priming (i.e., inflationary) policies in response.

(Note to self: translate the WIN song into Latvian and Russian, and post on Wikipedia.)

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