FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Betty Ford Went Rogue

She was our most reluctant First Lady, and yet, arguably, in recent times, at least, one of our most accomplished.  Betty Ford, who died Friday at age 93, didn’t want her husband, Gerald Ford to accept Richard Nixon’s appointment as the nation’s vice-president.  She also opposed his decision to pardon the disgraced president.  And she was a “feminist” at a time when feminism was still, for many, especially conservatives, a dirty word.

Many believe to this day that her outspoken defense of the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion – and even recreational pot-smoking – may have cost her husband his re-election, while paving the way for Ronald Reagan’s ascendancy.  But thanks to her perhaps, even Republican women got a taste of what it might be like to live in the limelight, speak their minds, and have a real impact on national affairs.

Her signature achievement was her staunch advocacy on behalf of drug and alcohol recovery, which included the founding of the Betty Ford Rehabilitation Center in Rancho Mirage, CA in 1982.  Ford didn’t come to the cause lightly.  She suffered through her own fierce prescription drug addiction that began  in the 1960s and that, combined with the onset of alcoholism, led her family to force her into treatment, from which she soon emerged as an industry pioneer. Some 90,000 people, including Hollywood celebrities like Robert Downey, Jr and Drew Barrymore, have passed through the Betty Ford Center, which includes one of nation’s first rehab clinics devoted exclusively to women, and they still credit her with helping them rebuild their lives.

Betty Ford’s legacy seems all the more remarkable given the brevity of her husband’s tenure in office – 868 days, following on the heels of Nixon’s resignation.  Betty was so opposed to her husband’s involvement with Nixon that he felt compelled to hide from her the fact that he’d been meeting with Nixon to discuss the VP slot.  And Nixon, apparently, never had any intention of supporting Ford for the presidency, had he survived until 1976.  He told Ford he’d be merely a caretaker, and that helped assuage Betty, who’d already back-stopped her husband’s career – and largely parented the couple’s four children – through his 13 terms in office as a Michigan congressman.

But once thrust into the role, she decided to make the most of it, eventually overshadowing her husband and leaving a far more lasting legacy.

While Ford’s outspokenness and candor as a First lady seem more commonplace today, they certainly weren’t at the time.  Nixon’s wife, Pat, had been considered a paragon of demure and loyal virtue, and preceding Democratic presidents, including JFK and LBJ, had wives known for their “presence,” but none had the temerity to speak out on issues as Ford did, or to seize the initiative on matters of social policy.

When Gerald Ford ran against Jimmy Carter in 1976, his advisers were deeply worried that Betty came across as more liberal than Carter’ wife Rosalynn. She was known as a fierce campaigner and effective defender of her husband, in fact, but Ford’s aides made sure she only appeared sparingly, and almost always in front of moderate Republican or even Democratic audiences.   During the campaign, he joked that his famous wife – named Time Magazine’s Woman of the Year in 1975 – was “costing me a good 10 million votes” – an estimate that some old pols later upped to 20 million votes, in part to explain his loss.

Who among Republicans most reminds you of Betty Ford?  Given the rightward shift of the GOP, hardly anyone, in fact.  Certainly none of the Republican First Ladies who followed her were as politically outspoken or would have dared upstage their husbands the way she sometimes did. (If anything she bears a much closer resemblance to Democratic First ladies like Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama).  But Ford almost certainly would have cheered the rebel Girl Power spirit exemplified today in Sarah Palin’s “Mama Grizzlies” and in the insurgent Tea Party candidacy of Michele Bachmann, even if their styles and temperaments – to say nothing of their stances on social issues – couldn’t be further apart.

Betty Ford, born and raised in a small Midwestern town, a former student of Matha Graham who loved the “Bump” and who organized disco dance parties in the White House four decades before Michelle Obama did the “Dougie” in public, was a true rebel at a time of dawning cultural change in America, especially for women.  A woman of grit and grace among Republican patricians, she “went rogue” long before rogue had become “in,” and she did it without fear or favor.

On Ford’s last day in the White House, Betty left one last impression of her unusual elan.  In full view of the photogprahers, she hopped on top of the huge ornate Cabinet Room table laden with so much policy history and did what only Betty Ford would do.  She began to dance.

 

More articles by:

Stewart J. Lawrence can be reached at stewartlawrence81147@gmail.com

June 20, 2018
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail