One year ago, Gerald Ford was unknown outside the United States. At 60, he had?
One year ago, Gerald Ford was unknown outside the United States. At 60, he had been in Congress for a quarter of a century as representative of his home state, Michigan, and had played no major part in the nation's legislation.
Today, Ford stands on the brink of the Presidency. Having been plucked from the ranks of the anonymous to replace Spiro Agnew as President Nixon's Vice-President, he will now succeed Nixon if the President is removed from office or resigns in the face of impeachment.
Nixon chose Ford as his Vice-Presidential nominee because they have been close friends for the past 25 years. They entered Washington politics as junior Congressmen at the sme time. But while Richard Nixon went on to win the highest electoral office, Ford remained in the background until December last year, when, in the middle of the mounting Watergate crisis, he was sworn in as President Nixon's right-hand man.
Since then, he has travelled thousands of miles throughout the United States, defending the President against criticism over the Watergate affair. Gerald Ford is fond of declaring he is his own man and, indeed, has sometimes hinted criticism of the President' refusal to co-operate with Congressional committees investigating Watergate. But in the end, he has insisted the President is innocent of the charges levelled at him.
Politically, Gerald Ford has to walk an uneasy tightrope. While supporting the man who put him in office, he scrupulously avoids endorsing the President's Watergate tactics.
Furthermore, Ford consistently denies he has any ambition to stand in his own right for Presidential office in the elections of 1976, but as he stomps the country shaking hands and encouraging demoralised Republican party workers, more and more people see his as the Republicans' best bot when the Nixon are finally ends.
Gerald Ford is married to a former model and has three sons and a daughter. On a personal level, he enjoys the continual travel and speech-making which his present role demands. He is affable, apparently sincere and, above all, loyal but - until now - nobody had ever seen him as Presidential material. His critics are quick to point to an uninspiring record in Congress and the fact that not one single piece of major legislation bears his sponsorship. They feel, too, that his performance as Vice-President has been equally unimpressive in that he has tended to vacillate between outright support of President Nixon and implied criticism.
But whatever his qualities, the most recent moves in the Watergate saga -- moves which seam to make it inevitable that Mr. Nixon will be impeached -- have placed Gerald Ford within one step of the Presidential office.
The past year has transformed his form an unknown politician into a major figure and his virtues of modesty, good humour and irreproachable political decency have carried him to a pinnacle of popularity. And those, more than any other, are the virtues for which the American people are searching at a time when Watergate has made politics a dirty word.