“If you were to ask Sam Donaldson who was more important to post-World War II America, Gerald Ford or Chuck Berry, do you have any doubt what he would answer? That any president of the United States, even one as inconsequential as Ford, might be less significant in the vast scheme of things than the man who invented the musical vernacular of the last half-century threatens everything Donaldson represents. Because media culture and political culture breathe the same air and exchange the same conceptual viruses, and anything from outside the bubble in which they exist is alien to their common immune system. It’s just another example of how — like the political culture it pimps for — the Washington opinion-elite that presumes to speak for the country fails so utterly to understand it.”
Steve Erickson “Pimps Without Portfolio” Salon 17 February 1999
She was no Chuck Berry. It would take another thirty-plus years for a black man to sit at the head of the White House table. But does anyone doubt that Betty Ford was more important to post-World War II America than her husband? Betty Ford was sex, drugs, and rock and roll. True, the drugs part didn’t work out for her, but I don’t think she ever renounced her laissez faire attitude toward marijuana. Someone who’s been to hell and back with booze and painkillers knows that pot is children’s fare compared to opiates. She was pro-choice and pro-ERA, and she offered cheerfully that she and her husband had sex “as often as possible.” A former Martha Graham dancer, she introduced The Bump (remember that?) to the White House, and struck an elegant pose for the camera, barefoot on the cabinet room table, a nervy, gentle, stylish act of lèse majesté that summed up in one image America’s new arrangement: women on top, and cabinet secretaries in their place, which didn’t allow for wiretapping and war crimes.
America’s great foreign disaster had ended with a whimper in 1975, allowing people’s attention to shift to local (and non-political) matters. No one was better positioned than Betty Ford to guide America into the new, sane domestic arrangement. Take a look at a photo of Betty and Jerry and their four good-looking, outdoorsy, athletic kids. Susan Ford is the image of the 1970s blond dream girl. “Come home, America,” George McGovern pleaded. America didn’t listen. But it listened to Betty Ford, and her approval rating hit 75%.
However, as she lamented, those numbers weren’t transferable to her husband. And so Betty Ford was forced out of the White House by Jimmy Carter, our first “born again” president, a non-drinking, fiscally conservative, hawkish friend to the Shah of Iran. Today he enjoys a good reputation among liberals because of the man who replaced him. But Carter marked the end of the interregnum of sanity that prevailed in 1975. About which more to come...