Conservatives as Challenger Entrepreneurs
No one considered Gerald R. Ford and his Republican colleagues to be likely policy trailblazers. When Richard M. Nixon resigned the presidency effective August 9, 1974, the immediate future of social policy in the United States seemed to be largely predictable–and largely unremarkable, for that matter. Ford, who had served in Congress from Michigan for over twenty-five years and then for one year in the vice-presidency, promised the country stability. And for the most part, stability–some would say immobility–is what he provided.
Some of this paralysis Ford brought upon himself. His September 1974 pardon of Richard Nixon did not help to energize a nation searching for the redress of past injustices. And then there was the devastating impact of the economy. By 1974, inflation was soaring to a rate of 12 percent per year, and unemployment was well over 7 percent. Traditional methods of stimulating the economy, such as tax cuts and increased spending, did not seem to have the impact they had once had in past cycles of boom and bust. Moreover, the deepening energy crisis did nothing to endear Ford to the American public. Citizens all over the country were waiting in long lines for overpriced gas that was in short supply due to the Arab oil embargo of 1973. Adding to the stalemate, Ford himself was continually at odds with the country's overwhelmingly Democratic Congress, and vetoed a record number of bills during his brief tenure in office.
It was surprising, therefore, that Ford would prove to be such a visionary when it came to child support enforcement. In a 1975 speech urging the rapid implementation of child support legislation, Senator Sam