This originally appeared in Newsday on Nov. 15, 1974
Tomorrow will be Gerald Ford’s 100th day in the presidency. Since Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first term it has been the custom to deliver a report card on presidential performance at this point, and the custom makes good sense. A chief executive really has only a few months to establish his leadership, install his team, lay out his program and produce at least a few concrete results before his mandate begins to dissipate and his image to tarnish.
By the measures just listed, President Ford gives every appearance of being in trouble today. His presidency is not without its accomplishments, but mostly they are negative ones. The central quality of Ford’s administration has been a diminution of the presidential profile – all well and good, but not exactly bold leadership.
The one significant program that Ford has embarked upon is a tentative and still mostly unlegislated attack on economic problems. There are no legislative successes. Ford dissipated vast amounts of political capital in a needless dispute over aid to Turkey. His one unarguably original initiative turned out to be a grievous error – the Nixon pardon.
Still, the President has also shown himself to be a decent, reasonable and thoroughly attractive human being. It seems to us that his personal qualities and the country’s mood after Nixon leave open the possibility that he can yet regain his original momentum. But he’ll have to move forcefully and urgently:
Ford must declare his independence from the old Nixon coterie. That means not only emptying out the cabinet but also finding a new cast of top deputies. If he merely shifts the same old faces around, he will keep getting the same shopworn policies.
Ford must completely review the administration’s policies in the current areas of crisis: the economy, energy and foreign affairs. The shortcomings are most painfully apparent overseas; a diplomatic fiasco at the OAS conference which we sponsored to end the Cuban embargo; a global black eye at the Rome hunger conference, and now an appalling deterioration of the Middle East situation after Yasir Arafat’s UN performance. The drift in energy policy is no less serious; Ford’s dismissal of John Sawhill as energy administrator and his subsequent evasion of leadership in the coal strike are painful evidence of this floundering.
Ford must recognize that though conciliation is sometimes a President’s most important task there are also times that cry out for a forceful leader. He may be personally uncomfortable with this role, and poorly prepared for it by 25 years in Congress, but he simply must rise above his habitual preferences unless he wants to be remembered as another Herbert Hoover. This is not the time to be flying around the country making platitudinous speeches; there is serious work to be done in the Oval Office.
What’s at stake is not just Ford’s political survival or the future of the Republican Party, but the prosperity and security of America. As the country has many times called on its citizens to serve beyond the call of duty in wartime, it now clearly requires Gerald Ford to rise to its urgent need.