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Former president still has faith in American political system

Irwin M. Goldberg Sun News Service

Leaders, especially those at the head of the U.S. government, need to have three things: wisdom, freedom and responsibility, said former President Gerald Ford at Sierra Nevada College Saturday.

Coincidentally, those three words adorn the college’s seal.

Inaugural speaker

Ford, the 38th president of the United States who left office in 1977, was the inaugural speaker at the Tahoe Forum, a series sponsored by the college to bring well-known guest speakers to the school and Incline Village.

A total of 311 people attended the event.

In talking about “Leadership and Integrity in American Politics,” Ford didn’t appear to be 84, his voice full of conviction and authority.

“Twenty years after (I left office) I believe the words of the college seal have regained ascendancy,” Ford said, kicking off his speech.

While Americans are typically full of skepticism, Ford said his faith in the system is justified as America resisted the Soviet threat, has enacted civil rights laws, rewarded women for their contributions to society, “put footprints on the moon,” and survived the birth of the information age.

“All of this should be an inspiration that Americans are never better than when tackling the impossible,” Ford said.

Traditionally, in a democracy, people look to themselves to create better schools, safer streets and the like, he said. As a result, America is full of leaders.

“They start our businesses, coach Little League … help abused women,” Ford said.

Americans are also charitable, donating more than $120 billion to charities last year, in addition to time.

“We make a living based on what we get, we make a life on what we do,” he said. “The nation’s soul can’t be measured by the gross national product.”

When it comes down to it, leaders need to be true to themselves.

“A leader must never sacrifice the demands of their conscience in order to avoid short-term controversy,” he said, alluding to his pardon of President Richard Nixon.

Asked about the pardon after the event, Ford once again gave his reasoning behind the decision.

“Hard decisions are never very popular ones,” he said. “You have to make a judgment based on what is right or wrong. … There is no question that if I had not he would have had a conviction, then an appeal. The net result is the country would have been in continuous turmoil. This was the only way to clear the decks.

“Politically it was a bad decision but at least it was one I can live with in my conscience.”

In the future, Ford said America needs, “leaders not leaners.”

“Honor, decency, a reverence for life and liberty makes life worth living. My finest hope is that you will be unreasonable in the pursuit of these things,” he said closing his talk.

Questions and answers

Afterwards, Ford entertained several questions from the media.

Given the political climate in Incline Village, with some of the homeowners upset with the improvement district, Ford had this advice for the politicians when it comes to criticism.

“When in political life, you have to expect to be criticized, not only from the press, but also a significant part of your constituents,” he said.

“(Constituents) have a right to speak up and be critical as long as they keep within the parameters of the law. … Politicians need to understand that being criticized is part of the problem of serving.”

Political lack of morality?

He also commented on the morality or lack thereof on today’s political scene.

“I don’t think the degree of morality is any less than before, it is just more publicized.”

Ford came to Incline less than two months following President Clinton’s Lake Tahoe Presidential Forum. Prior to speaking at the college, Ford spoke at a fund-raiser for Republican senate candidate Bruce James, a Sierra Nevada College trustee.

Those who were unable to attend the event at the college will be able to see it at 8 p.m. Saturday courtesy of Lake Tahoe Public Television, UHF channel 14, which will broadcast the event in its entirety.


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