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Country Mourns President's Ford and James Brown

Aired December 30, 2006 - 13:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I guess you can't talk about the Ford presidency and the legacy without having to mention Watergate and mention the pardon of Nixon, but, you know, as such a close friend of his, do you just hate to hear that talk right now, at this time? That's kind of the bad mark, I guess. A lot of people, he was criticized for that move to pardon Nixon, but at that time like this, just as a friend, I'm sure you know as a politician and as a congressman that, you know, that stuff has to be talked about, but just as a good friend of his, do you just hate to hear that talk at this time?
GUY VANDER JAGT, FMR. HOUSE MINORITY LEADER (via telephone): Because he was a good friend, T.J., anything that hurts him hurts me. But I really don't think Watergate and the pardon hurt him, for one thing. He had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Watergate. And the pardon, I think history, in looking back, has come to the conclusion that it was the right thing to do, to get Watergate behind us and to put our long national nightmare behind us and to move on to the many challenges that confronted us at that time. Vietnam, and the economy, and the energy crises. It was the right decision.

HOLMES: And congressman, being so close to him and certainly being around his family, plenty, I'm sure, describe what kind of -- he was head of state, but what kind of head of this family was he? People always rally around him, and he was still running things as busy as he was in his business life?

VANDER JAGT: Oh, T.J., he was so devoted to that family. After he lost the -- the last night he was in the White House, he had a party for Betty Ford, because she was kind of depressed. The friends seemed to dessert them after the defeat. They didn't really, they were just trying to be considerate of them, and so he personally arranged a surprise party for her that night before they left the White House. He took her off to dinner at David Kimmerly, the photographer's house, and he gathered about 80 of her closest friends together hiding in a room in the White House. And his excuse was that they hadn't had a chance to have a photograph with the marine band, who had done so much for them. This was the only time the whole marine band could be there, and so they came back a little early from dinner. They had the picture, and then the president said, Betty, how about one last dance?


VANDER JAGT: And she said, yes, and let's do it to "Thanks for the Memories." And then he danced but kept her back away from the room, and we glided out onto the dance floor, and then suddenly, they turned her around, and there were her dear friends that she cared about so much, and she burst into tears. And the president in his book says that seeing her happiness was one of the greatest joys of his entire life.


VANDER JAGT: He was devoted to that woman.

HOLMES: OK, he was good.

LONG: Thank you.

HOLMES: He was good, oh, my goodness, that's a good story.

VANDER JAGT: Thank you.

HOLMES: And, Bill, I'm going to bring you back in here; too, Bill Schneider is still with us, our senior political analyst. Betty Ford, what kind of tone -- we talked about the family here a bit and how this family certainly different from all others that have been in the White House previous. But all the families since, and specifically the first ladies since, do you think that the first ladies that have come after Betty Ford? Is she looked at as a model? As an example? Are they trying to follow her lead?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They do, and they have, and they should. She was outspoken as a first lady. She had issues that she put on the agenda, as I said earlier. She contributed to destigmatizing major personal and political and social problems like alcoholism, addiction. She started the Betty Ford Clinic, an enduring legacy of her time in the White House, and I think every first lady since then has really come out of the shadows, usually they would stand in the shadows of the president. They would often have private things they did, you know, the cliche was they would come in and be asked about how they would redecorate the White House. That's become almost a joke.

This days you're not supposed to worry about redecorating the White House, or not only that, you're supposed to worry about what you're going to contribute to the country, what kind of social statement you're going to make, and Betty Ford really was the first, the pioneering first lady in that particular role.

LONG: As we learn more and reflect more on Mrs. Ford's legacy, let's also talk about President Ford's legacy. As we stated earlier in the day, he never expressed any interest in becoming president. His highest ambitions were to be possibly speaker of the house. Let's check in once again with history professor Julian Zelizer to, again, explain his impact in the House.

JULIAN ZELIZER: In the house, he served as the house minority leader from 1965 onward. He was a very prominent Republican politician. We forget about this. Many people had high aspirations for Gerald Ford when he led the Republicans in an era of Democratic dominance. He was very hard line on Vietnam. He put a lot of pressure on the Johnson administration. But at the same time he was known for reaching out across the aisle. He presided in an era when bipartisanship was really valued.

Southern Democrats and Republicans often work closely together and Ford was part of that generation, so in many ways he was relic from an earlier era, not an era of strong partisan, but an era of strong bipartisanship, and that is how he acted when he was in the house and many people valued him for it, not only as a member of Congress but a president.

LONG: A relic from an earlier era and politically, but at the same time as we've been discussing his public displays of affection really were not relics of the past but more future thinking.

ZELIZER: Yes, I mean, you have to remember, part of what Ford did contribute to the presidency was to humanize it. When he took over, there was a lot of anger about the White House. People looked down at presidents for the first time, really in a long time in American history. They were disgusted with Nixon. Many were angry with Johnson. And one of the thing Ford and his wife contributed was to bring a certain level of humanity and kindness back to the office. That, in the end, might be one of his biggest contributions. And it did help restore some confidence in the institution, in that role.

LONG: I want to remind everybody what we've been watching. You're looking at a live picture from Palm Springs International Airport. This is the aircraft that will carry the casket bearing the body of the 38th president of the United States, and his loved ones to Washington, D.C. That journey begins this afternoon. And, of course, the formal funeral services will take place in Washington, and the president will lie in the capitol rotunda through the New Year holiday.

HOLMES: All right, and we still have our Bill Schneider here with us, and I want to talk to you about a couple of names from the Ford administration. We saw in the current administration Cheney and Rumsfeld. They played a role here with Gerald Ford. Talk about the role they played there, and I don't know, what they might have learned back then that is still with them now.

SCHNEIDER: Well, both of them were chief of staff, first Rumsfeld and Cheney, who was then in his early 30s, my goodness, one of the youngest, maybe one of the youngest chiefs of staff of the White House on record. Both of them got their start in national politics. Later in the Ford White House, later Cheney, of course, served in the House of Representatives and ultimately as defense secretary under the first President Bush, and now as vice president of the United States.

But they both came out of the Ford administration. Interestingly, in an interview with the author, Bob Woodward, President Ford, indicated that Cheney had changed. Something a lot of people have noticed. That he had become more pugnacious as vice president. A surprising side of Dick Cheney, because of -- as we said, Ford's signature policy was one of detente. But he expressed some surprise, and perhaps a little disappointment that Dick Cheney, in particular, and perhaps also Donald Rumsfeld, had become much more aggressive and militant as they assumed a larger role in national politics and in the Republican Party.

Both of them came out of the Ford administration. And, in fact, the first President Bush served as ambassador to China under Gerald Ford, so a lot of Republicans who claim their original experiences during the Ford period.

HOLMES: And, Congressman Vander Jagt, let me bring you back again, remind our viewers you spent twenty-something years or so in the House of Representatives with then representative Ford. When you look at the nastiness in Washington these days, when you see the bitter, bitter partisanship on so many issues and so many times happening and coming out of the House of Representatives oftentimes, when you see that and you compare that to Ford's House of Representatives, when you all served in the house, what are some of the comparisons and I guess what are some of the things that make you shake your head, at seeing how it was then and how it is now?

VANDER JAGT: Well, it puts an ache in my heart when I see how it is now with the bitter partisanship. It isn't like the days when Jerry Ford and Tip O'Neil could battle it out on the floor of the house and then go out the next day and have a golf game together. I remember, after the president took office, he had the Republican and Democrat leadership down for a dinner, and before the crackling fire, they swapped stories and nostalgic and reminiscing, and as we walked down the marble steps afterwards, I was a stair behind Tip O'Neil, who said to a rather partisan Democrat, gee, you know, it was almost apologetically, gee, you know, I'm really sorry about it, but I just can't help it, I really like that man. Oh, if we could only get back to that kind of spirit today.

HOLMES: Well, you've got great stories. Tell me how much do you think Gerald Ford, how much he went to the House of Representatives and how much was he responsible for that tone in those days?

VANDER JAGT: Oh, certainly it was a different era, and so it was easier then. But there is no question that the kind of person that Ford was had a lot to do with setting the tone of bipartisan ship and though you had aggressors, you didn't have enemies. You made your enemies your friends.

LONG: Let's bring back in history Professor Julian Zelizer who joins us from Watertown, Massachusetts.

Thank you very much for joining us this morning, this afternoon to talk about the legacy of president ford. Earlier we talked about the presidential pardon, and it was the idea was tossed around that it did not, in fact, cost him the 1976 presidency. But what do you teach in your classes?

ZELIZER: Look, I think his intentions were good. I think we've learned that this was not about a deal with Richard Nixon when he decides to pardon him, and that he truly intended to move the country beyond Vietnam. I mean, beyond Watergate. But at the same time, I think there were limits to what President Ford could do with those pardons. I mean, his pardon actually ignites another round of anger about Watergate, about the presidency that results in a large Democratic influx in the 1974 election. And the anger over Watergate and the anger over Vietnam was much deeper than Richard Nixon. So, I think ultimately one of the tragedies is there were limits to what President Ford could accomplish, as able as he was and as decent as he was. He was president in the most troubled of times in the United States. And I think the pardons reflect that. It reflects the limits of what any politician could have done at that given moment.

LONG: Presidential historian Richard Shenkman also with us this morning, live from Seattle, and with that pardon, it certainly affected the presidency and the president's approval rating at the time, plunging from some 71 percent to 50 percent. So my question is Mr. Shenkman is how has history, therefore, treated his reputation from the '70s until today?

RICHARD SHENKMAN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, he looked a lot better today than he did 30 years ago. And one of the reasons is that historians like to give presidents credit when they lead public opinion. We give them a lot of credit when they take public opinion in a direction that they think the public needs to go in, but is not quite ready for. And that's what Ford did with the Nixon pardon. I think that he bungled the introduction of the pardon, the way that he sprang it on the country without advance notice. I think that hurt him and I don't think it helped the country at all. I think he could have handled that better, but his act of doing it, that goes over well with historians, because it was one way of trying to put Watergate behind us. So that we wouldn't, as Nixon said, wallow in Watergate. Because we were still wallowing in Watergate, there was still so much on the national agenda that we needed to get to that had to be figured out to put this behind us so we could move forward.

HOLMES: All right, I want to remind our viewers what we are seeing here. We are watching the planes, one of Air Force One, presidential fleet that will take the body of Gerald Ford out of California for the last time. Leaving, heading to Washington, D.C., for a few days of memorials, and celebrations of his life, his presidency, before his funeral at the National Cathedral on Wednesday, and then he'll be heading to Michigan to be buried. Our Bill Schneider is still with us here, and, Bill, could this serve, again, our political analyst Bill Schneider. Can this serve, the death of Gerald Ford, as a reminder, of how things used to be? This was a different era. He was from a different era.

When, like we've been saying, they could fight like dogs during the day, and go have a beer together at night. And there's bitter, bitter partisanship now. Could this do some good? Do you think possibly if we all just stopped and remembered how things used to be?

SCHNEIDER: I think that's exactly why there's such a wave of nostalgia accompanying the passing of Gerald Ford and the funeral of Gerald Ford, it's nostalgia and also a longing for a lost political style. Mr. Shenkman mentioned a minute ago the lost style of the Republican Party, of moderation. These days the moderates in the Republican Party have largely been defeated and left the party, retired from politics and a far more aggressive style of movement conservatism which came in with Ronald Reagan and has now reached the crescendo with George W. Bush has taken over and in its wake created the bitter style of partisanship. Of course both President Clinton and George W. Bush were seen as very divisive presidents. Americans long for the moderation and the pragmatism, the ability to work with people across the aisle of a Gerald Ford.

If you remember when George W. Bush first ran for president, he declared in 1999, he promised to be, "A unifier, not a divider" and that was what a lot of people longed for in this president, a compassionate conservative he called himself, many Americans have been disappointed that his style has been more harsh and divisive than they expected to it be, and they want to recover that, and I think that's why there's so much nostalgia and a renewed sense of hope, perhaps that this style of politics can be recovered.

LONG: Well Bill given everything you've just said, that lost political style and the increasing large pool of Republicans and Democrats eyeing the White House in '08, what can they learn?

SCHNEIDER: What they can learn is that there is a political reward for unifying the country, not just playing to the base. The base style associated with Karl Rove, President Bush's political advisor has now become very much of the moment. It's considered the growing political tendency. Don't worry about independents, don't worry about moderates, just drive your base out to the polls and overwhelm these oppositions, well that was disproved just last month in the election, when there was proved to be a center and they came out and voted and in this case of course they voted decidedly against the president and his party, and I think there was an incentive there for voters to try to claim the center, or reclaim the center because it very much is still there.

And you will find, I predict, in the preparations now for the 2008 presidential election, a lot of political figures that, Obama, perhaps, for the Democrats, Giuliani, McCain, Romney, on the Republican side, possibly even Hillary Clinton who is associated, of course, with her husband's divide, and political legacy, they are all going to try to make a play for the center and become the reconciling figures that came out of the style of politics that came out of the Gerald Ford era.

HOLMES: And, Congressman Vander Jagt, we want to bring you back in here, and we're still watching the live picture of Palm Springs Regional Airport in California, where the plane that is carrying the casket, the body of Former President Gerald Ford has gone out of our sights here. It's scheduled to take off here shortly, making the trip back across country, back to Washington, D.C., for ceremonies and the funeral for the former president. But it's gone out of our sights here. Don't know if it will come back into our sight, but we're keeping an eye on the airport there. You can see, really, we saw stands where people had gathered a short time ago, watching the departure ceremony for the former president.

And Mr. Vander Jagt, Congressman Vander Jagt, we want to talk to here. We were hearing from Bill Schneider that so many politicians now say just drive out the base, you got to get to base so you got to go to the left, got to go to the right. When your good friend, Gerald Ford, was eyeing the White House or trying to win an election, I guess in '76, what was his plan? What was he trying to do to win that election? Who was he playing to? Was he playing one side or the other, to this side or that, or was he trying to go right down the center again?

VANDER JAGT: He was aiming right down the middle. His whole theme was that he had done a good job in addressing the issues on our plate, the energy crises after the Arab oil embargo, getting us out of Vietnam. Had started to make a dent in the runaway inflation, and he -- his whole theme was, I've done a good job. Let me finish the job. He explicitly and would discuss it with me as we would fly back from a campaign experience, did not want to attack Jimmy Carter personally. He wanted to correct the record when he thought candidate Carter was misstating it, but he did not want to have any personal attacks. That was very much on his mind, and I think proof of the pudding is Jimmy Carter and Jerry Ford became good friends afterwards.

HOLMES: And here we are, we are watching the plane take off right now. Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the U.S. is now leaving California for the last time, heading to Washington, D.C., for ceremonies and remembrances for the next several days. But the 38th president, Gerald R. Ford, leaving California for the last time, making the trip back across the country. Betty Ford on board. Other members of the family on board as well. But there it is. We've been watching the departure ceremonies and ceremonies for him in southern California where he made his home since he left the White House now he's leaving California for the last time.

LONG: And weighing in, as we've been watching the departure ceremony, a thank you to senior CNN political analyst, Bill Schneider, presidential historian Richard Shenkman, and history professor Julian Zelizer and former Congressman Guy Vander Jagt, thank you so much gentlemen for joining us, sharing your expertise on this very important morning or afternoon, depending on where you are in the country at this time.

HOLMES: Thank you, gentlemen, we'll keep an eye on this plane and watch this picture, and when Ford's body arrives in Washington a little bit later, you can tune into a special addition of the "Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer" and then tonight we'll have a special "Larry King Live" remembering Gerald Ford in his words and that begins at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

LONG: Still to come, another farewell, a final farewell to the godfather of soul. We're continuing to bring you live pictures from Augusta, Georgia, Reverend Al Sharpton there and Jesse Jackson as well at the ceremonial event today to honor the legacy of the musical icon.

HOLMES: Yes, the public services here, some 8,000 filing into the James Brown Arena there in Augusta, Georgia. You're seeing some familiar faces there. We don't have to tell you who they are. Thank you for being with us. Stay here, CNN, throughout the day. We'll be right back.


LONG: Live picture from Augusta, Georgia, where thousands of people, more than 8,000 people, have gathered inside this arena to pay the final respects to James Brown, calling it, however, a celebration, and a homecoming celebration. Catherine Callaway is live at the arena right now covering this celebration.


CATHERINE CALLAWAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Melissa. What is happening right now, there are some very disappointed fans standing behind me? We have seen thousands of people line the streets here, wrap around the block, all trying to get a chance to get into the arena and walk past James Brown's casket. However, the arena is now at its capacity. As 8,100 people, they are not letting anyone else in, and they have shut the doors, which is why there are so many people standing behind me. They are actually trying to get a glimpse at what's going on inside now, and they are trying to look at our monitors that have shots of what is going on inside the arena. What we've seen over the last ten minutes are some of the family members and some of the celebrity guests that have arrived to pay their final respects to James Brown, we've seen Jesse Jackson and, of course, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and as soon as they've finished viewing the body, there will be some type of performance on the stage, there you see in the arena.

We know that James Brown's band, which will be performing this afternoon, the Soul Generals, but we don't know who else is going to be performing. They are keeping it somewhat of a mystery, maybe a bit of a surprise, too. But the people that have been here this morning are not just fans, they are members of this community, a community that James Brown grew up in, that he came back to, that he still lived in. And was very involved in the community, with charitable work. In fact, he was at his annual toy drive just a few days before he died. And I spoke with Frank Copsidis, who is actually Brown's manager, and he talked about how he has been touched by what the fans have said to him over the last few days.

FRANK COPSIDIS, JAMES BROWN'S MANAGER: What's so amazing, everybody has a James Brown story. Whether it's here in Japan, in India, or in London, wherever we are in the world, and that shows how much this man touched people, one-on-one.

CALLAWAY: And, indeed, he has touched a number of people, even though the doors are shut here, people still continuing to gather, hoping that they may be able to squeeze a few more people into the arena to watch this, what Al Sharpton is calling a celebration of James Brown's life.


LONG: Catherine you mentioned cameras and audio equipment for those that weren't able to get inside.

CALLOWAY: Actually, Melissa, they are looking at our monitor, frankly.

LONG: Oh. CALLOWAY: There is a loudspeaker out here. It's a bit muffled. And right now not a lot going on in the arena, as you can see, just the family and some of the celebrity guests still are filing past the casket. On an interesting note, at the Apollo Theater earlier this week, we saw James Brown in a gold casket in a sequined blue outfit with white gloves and silver shoes but today he is actually wearing a black tuxedo and a red shirt, just going out in style. It's amazing to see how many people have turned out to say goodbye to him today.

LONG: Catherine Callaway in Augusta, Georgia, Catherine, thank you.

HOLMES: All right, we're going to keep an eye on these live pictures and as we do, we'll talk to Christopher John Farley who is with the "Wall Street Journal," a music editor there. Thanks for being with us. Good to see you on this occasion. Tell us, is it fair, is it all right, we've heard this over the past couple days, this is maybe the black Elvis Presley.

CHRISTOPHER JOHN FARLEY, MUSIC EDITOR, "WALL STREET JOURNAL:" Well, no I think that Elvis Presley maybe you could call him the white James Brown. They actually both burst on the scene around the same time, but Elvis actually used to study James Brown's moves. There was one story that was told he once rented out a theater so he could watch James Brown on the big screen, so he could pick up what he was doing, and that was true of a lot of performers, Mick Jagger was seen backstage watching James Brown and when he went back to England, people said that he started to dance a different way, he was said to use the stage a lot more, so James Brown is someone that a lot of other people studied and it's really appropriate that this is happening on this day, because, you know, James Brown always had a very high opinion of himself and his skills, and here it's all being born out on a day that we're laying to rest presidents and we are seeing Saddam Hussein, pictures of him being hung.

Here's James Brown, we're also talking to him, he's on the world stage and he's being talked about at the same time as all the other big events and that's how important his contribution really was to the -- to world culture.

HOLMES: Well, he's certainly getting the attention today and going out in style. Christopher John Farley, you're going to stay with us here. We're going to take a quick break, and we'll have a check of all the headlines and the other big stories of the day, when we come back after the break, but, of course, keeping an eye on this homecoming ceremony for the godfather of soul James Brown. Stay here.



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