Kudlow’s Money Politics

The Ford Legacy

Gerald Ford was a good and gracious man.

He was a dedicated and honest public servant’”well liked by all who knew him personally. And I think his controversial pardon of Richard Nixon was a good idea’”good in the sense that it got it off the table so the country could move on.

However, President Ford was one of a long line of American executives who presided over the decline of the U.S. in both national security and economic terms. This began under LBJ and stretched out through Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter.

In national security terms, Mr. Ford was a détentist who accommodated the Soviet Union in a number of ways, including unverifiable arms control deals that Ronald Reagan put an end to when the Gipper assumed the presidency in the 1980’s.

The U.S.’s Vietnam retreat from the rooftop of our embassy in Saigon was one of the low points in the history of American foreign policy’”a disgraceful action. Reagan, of course, changed all this in the 1980’s with his many actions to overturn and defeat Soviet communism.

In economic policy, Mr. Ford was a traditional Republican budget balancer who had no pro-growth policies. Arthur Laffer tried to persuade Ford of the merits of supply side economics to reduce marginal tax rates and grow the American economy’”but Ford, acting on advice of top economic advisor Alan Greenspan, rejected this.

June Wanniski called this root canal economics and Newt Gingrich described Ford’s futile obsession with the budget deficit as simply the tax collector for the welfare state.

The combination of high inflation interacting with high marginal tax rates led to stagflation and the continued decline of the American economy. And the infamous ‘whip inflation now’ program was nothing more than price controls and state planning.

Again, it took Ronald Reagan to reverse all this by adopting the incentive-minded growth model which slashed tax rates and reignited the U.S. economy in the 1980’s – an economy whose fire still burns brightly a quarter of a century later.

At the end of the day, Ford was defeated by Jimmy Carter, who was just as baffled about stagflation and Soviet hegemony as Ford was.

Mr. Ford attempted one last play on the national political stage at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit. Reagan had soundly trounced Papa Bush in the primaries to capture the nomination. But the Papa Bush forces’”led by James Baker’”attempted a bizarre co-presidency that would have made Ford the vice president and divided up all the executive branch responsibilities.

Reagan himself squashed this, chose Papa Bush instead, crushed Carter in the election, and went on to become one of the greatest presidents in United States history.

Thank God for Ronald Reagan.

Larry Kudlow — Larry Kudlow is the author of JFK and the Reagan Revolution: A Secret History of American Prosperity, written with Brian Domitrovic.

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