Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s

Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s


History has not been kind to Gerald Ford. His name evokes an image of either America's only unelected president, who abruptly pardoned his corrupt predecessor, or an accident-prone man who failed to provide skilled leadership to a country in domestic turmoil. In Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s, historian Yanek Mieczkowski reexamines Ford's two and a half years in office, showing that his presidency successfully confronted the most vexing crises of the postwar era. Surveying the state of America in the 1970s, Mieczkowski focuses on the economic challenges facing the country. He argues that Ford's understanding of the national economy was better than that of any other modern president, that Ford oversaw a dramatic reduction of inflation, and that his attempts to solve the energy crisis were based in sound economic principles. Throughout his presidency, Ford labored under the legacy of Watergate. Democrats scored landslide victories in the 1974 midterm elections, and the president engaged with a spirited opposition Congress. Within an anemic Republican Party, the right wing challenged Ford's leadership, even as pundits predicted the death of the GOP. Yet Ford reinvigorated the party and fashioned a 1976 campaign strategy against Jimmy Carter that brought him from thirty points behind to a dead heat on election day. Mieczkowski draws on numerous personal interviews with the former president, cabinet officials, and members of the Ninety-fourth Congress. In his reassessment of this underrated president, Ford emerges as a skilled executive, an effective diplomat, and a leader with a clear vision for America's future. Working to heal a divided nation, Ford unified the GOP and laid the groundwork for the Republican resurgence in subsequent decades. The first major work on the former president to appear in more than ten years, Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s combines the best of biography and economic, social, and presidential history to create an intriguing portrait of a president, his times, and his legacy.


“What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?”

Think about it for a minute. Pollsters have posed this question to Americans throughout the post–World War II era. in the summer of 1974, shortly before Gerald Ford became president, three issues stood out. Respondents overwhelmingly ranked the “high cost of living” as their chief worry. Then came a pair of concerns associated with the Watergate scandal, “lack of trust in government” and “corruption in government.” Third came the nation’s energy crisis.

Gerald Ford saw these problems as the greatest of his presidency. in July 1975, after almost a year as chief executive, he sat in the Oval Office as New York Times reporters interviewed him. They asked him what goals he had set for his administration and how he had fared in accomplishing them. He cited three: reducing inflation and unemployment, restoring public confidence in the White House after Watergate, and redressing the country’s energy vulnerability. These challenges became themes of the Ford presidency and the 1970s, and he believed that he had taken the right steps toward solving them.

These responses, from Americans and their president, typified the decade. Today, if you ask people about the 1970s, you might hear something about disco, pet rocks, or polyester. But these fads were more blips on the cultural radar screen than true national concerns. Instead, inflation dominated Americans’ thoughts like few phenomena did during the post–World War II era. Energy shortages also haunted daily life for most of the decade. Americans viewed a national energy policy as a higher priority than national health insurance or public job programs. By May 1979, 57 percent of respondents still considered inflation the nation’s most important problem, and 33 percent picked the energy crisis. the economy and energy were such important . . .

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